Legislation Ensures Young People Who Commit Non-Violent Crimes Receive Intervention and Evidence-Based Treatment
Young People Will No Longer Be Held at Rikers Island No Later Than October 1, 2018
Legislation Creates Raise the Age Implementation Task Force
Individuals Who Have Been Crime Free For Ten Years Can Now Apply For the Sealing of Previous Criminal Convictions
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, ensuring that young people in New York who commit non-violent crimes receive the intervention and evidence-based treatment they need. The legislation was passed as part of the FY 2018 Budget, and marks a major accomplishment in the Governor’s efforts to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system.
New York was previously one of only two states in the nation that automatically processed all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense. The Governor signed the legislation at the NYC Mission Society, joined by Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Alliance of Families for Justice, Akeem Browder, Rev. Al Sharpton, and other leaders in the social justice movement. More information is available here.
VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264 format) here.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the briefing will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of Governor Cuomo's remarks is available below.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Good afternoon to all of you. This is truly a special and an historic day. First, to Ms. McCabe and all those at the Mission Society, let's give them a big round of applause for allowing us here today. To Soffiyah Elijah, who's done such a great job in terms of advocating for this program. Soffiyah thank you very much for your good work. Reverend Sharpton, always a voice for justice, no matter what the situation. The Reverend's voice is always strong and always clear and he's always on the side of justice. A pleasure to be with you, Reverend Sharpton. We have many of my colleagues here today. I want to thank the DAs for being here. They were a big part of helping to acknowledge this package. We also have Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Congressman Charles Rangel. Let's give them a round of applause. We have, on a personal note, we have my Counsel Alphonso David, who really did a great job negotiating this bill so I want to thank him.
I want to thank Akeem Browder for having the courage to get up and tell the story over and over and over again and relive the pain. And it resonated with so many people all across this state, all across this country. And I don't believe we would be here today if you didn't have the courage and your family didn't have the courage to do what they did and reveal the atrocity of what happened to your brother. Akeem Browder. Let me say this. This was a hard one. Reverend Sharpton is right. This was difficult to do. I spend time in Albany, especially during the legislative session, and Albany has a big old house for the Governor, built in 1860, and it's a big house. The legislature bought this great big house right next to the Capitol, and I'm up there alone when I'm there because my kids are downstate or they're in school. And it's a creepy house, I don't mind telling you. There are stories that it's haunted. You know people who work there won't go in the elevators because they say a ghost turns off the elevator mid-floor. It's a creepy house. I'm a big, tough guy so I don't get afraid of ghosts but I'm not enamored with them anyway. So I don't sleep much when I'm in that house because there are a lot of noises going on, and it gives me a chance to read up on past governors and what they've done in New York and some of the greats – Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Al Smith. Three of the greatest governors in the history of the state of New York, second only to my father. And they all say the same thing. They all had the same philosophy. They said it different ways, which they said while they're there, they want to take on the tough challenges. They don't want to do the easy ones. Leave the easy ones for someone else. They want to take on the tough ones, and I've governed that same way. Give me the tough ones. Let us take on gun violence. I know it can't get passed. I know there's a lot of politics but we passed the best gun policy in the United States of America.
We raised the minimum wage to the highest level in the United States. We passed marriage equality when no other state would do it. We enacted a special prosecutor for police corruption when no one else would do it. And this Raise the Age, they've been talking about this for 12 years. 12 years and Soffiyah's right. 12 years, everybody would get excited. They'd try to get it passed and in 12 years the bill would die, and hopes would be dashed. And then the next year you had to start all over again. Well this year we had a multi-pronged attack. The advocates did a fantastic job organizing. Legislators did a great job. The Akeem Browder presentations, the Browder family, the way journalists told the Browder story, which shocked everyone who heard what happened to Kalief. It was really a coming together of a lot of efforts. State legislators in Albany I’ll tell you a story, out of school, Senator Jesse Hamilton is here. Forget what you read in the newspapers about how this happened. I’m not going as far as fake news, with Mr. Trump, by the way. But Raise the Age was so hard to do and it was in the budget and we had to get the budget done that the legislative leaders basically gave up on it. The legislative leaders said you know what we’ll leave it until after the budget. We'll leave something called 421-a, the affordable housing, we’ll take that out of the budget and we’ll take Raise the Age out of the budget and we’ll fight about it in June.
That meant it was never going to happen because the budget is something you have to pass. You don’t have to pass anything else. Anything else you can play politics. Well, he’s to blame, he’s to blame, he’s the blame. You can point fingers and make your political point and you don’t actually have to get it done – the budget you have to pass. So when they said they were going to take it out of the budget I was worried. I literally brought in the legislators and put them around the table. Something we don’t normally do.
I brought in members of the Senate, I brought in members of the Assembly, we sat at a conference table. I said, “Gentlemen and ladies, if we don’t work this out, it’s going to die. If it dies, it’s going to make a lot of people disappointed. It’s going to continue abuse. It’s going to continue disillusionment. It’s up to you to forge compromise and put your politics aside and figure out how to get to yes.”
Senator Jesse Hamilton was in that room, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Assemblyman Phil Ramos, Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Senator Andrew Lanza, Senator Gallivan, Senator Young, and they sat there in that room and they put their politics aside and they actually came up with a great program which is the program I’m going to sign into law in a few minutes. That’s the way elected officials are supposed to act.
This budget we passed has a lot of smart things in it. A lot of things that appeal to the mind. We have fiscal discipline in this state plan, we have a great building plan, new JFK, new LaGuardia, new Penn Station, can’t be soon enough. New buses, new trains, the most aggressive building developing program in the history of the state of New York.
Smart, but this budget, this plan, also has a heart. This plan also appeals to how people are feeling and the mood that is out there in the country today. And let’s be honest – we know what the mood is. People are unhappy. People are scared. People are frustrated. People are angry. That’s what the last election was about. Politically, people sense that anger, they sense that fear, and they fan those flames and they used it politically.
People got up and they were angry and they acted out of anger. It’s very easy to appeal to anger. It’s very easy to appeal to the negative and to the hate. In New York, we don’t do that. We don’t try to get people angry at each other. We try to get people to come together. So we did something else this year. We said, rather than try to get people angry, let’s try to address what is causing them anger and frustration in the first place. What’s driving it? What’s behind it? Let’s get to that to resolve the tension. You have new immigrants who are scared to death. They come up to me all day long and they say, “I don’t know if I’m next. I don’t know if I’m going to be deported.” You have thousands and thousands of young kids who were born here who don’t what’s going to happen to them. When young person said to me, “Every time someone new walks into the classroom, I get scared. I think they’re an immigration official who’s going to come and take me out of the classroom.”
You have that fear, that anxiety. We passed for the first time, first-in-the-nation immigrant legal defense that says, I don’t care your philosophy and I don’t care your opinion on immigration. You can say immigration is a bad thing and you’re against immigrants, and I can say something else. I can say, I’m a New Yorker and we are made from immigrants. And I’m an immigrant and if you want to deport someone, you start with me. But those are political opinions and we can argue about that. But we are a nation of law and before you go to deport anyone, we in New York are going to make sure that person has a lawyer and legal counsel and their rights are defended and that’s the role of government. You have that anger, that frustration – the economic tension. Fear about the future. Where people say, I’m afraid for myself and my economic future. But I’m afraid for my children more because I don’t know that their future is going to be better than mine. Look at the distance I traveled. I don’t know that they’re going to get a better job and that they’re going to be able to buy that house and they’re going to be able to move on up. I don’t even know if I can afford college. Parents who go to sleep every night, saying “I don’t know. How am I going to do this? Three kids. Pay for college. How?” You have children who say, “Jeez I wanted to be a success. I wanted to do something. I don’t think I’m going to get college.” And by the way, you need college today. College is what high school was 50 years ago. And 50 years ago, we had the sense as a society to say “free public high school.” Why? Because everybody needed it to be a success and because the state, society needed it to be a success. I get on the phone to pitch a businessman to come to New York. You know the first thing he asks me? Do you have an educated workforce?
So, having an educated workforce is not just good for people, it’s not just opportunity – it’s great for the state. So we said in New York, the time has come. We should have free public college for people $125,000 and below. First state in the nation and it will change lives. Think about it – 80 percent of the people in the state of New York qualify. 80 percent. Think about the parents who can go, “Amen, My kid can go to college.” Think about all the kids who can put their head on the pillow tonight and say, “It doesn’t matter if mom and dad can’t afford it. It doesn’t matter if dad is gone or mom is gone. I can go to college. I can be a doctor. I can be a lawyer. I can be whatever I want to be.”
It’s a life changer. Long overdue. First-in-the-nation. Now, you watch the other states start to copy what we do because it’s smart, it’s common sense and we’re New York and we lead the way. And the last point that we addressed and probably the most powerful—people who turn on the TV who read the newspaper and say what is going on in this society in our criminal justice system that in so many ways are doing injustices. And an injustice is revealed in a way we’ve never seen before. Eric Garner case. You can watch on a video. Over and over and over again, it’s not somebody telling you the story. It’s not second hand. It’s not third hand. It’s a video, where you see what happened. Incident after incident, and all across the country, and people saying there is bias and discrimination in our criminal justice system. And it is causing minorities pain and grief and it has for years and no one’s doing anything. And that is the truth.
And then you see the Kalief Browder story. That galvanizes public opinion, why? Because it’s everything you knew, it’s everything you feared, and here it is in one picture. And people say I can’t believe it. And by the way, it’s not Arkansas. It’s not some state in the middle of the country you’ve never even visited. It’s the State of New York. It’s New York City. That this is going on. New York City. The progressive capital of the world. The home of diversity, the home of justice, where the NAACP started. The most liberal most progressive people, and we have the most cruel, the most unjust result you can imagine. So bad they make a movie out of it. Because nobody can believe it. Right here in New York. And finally we say today when I sign that piece of paper, no more. No more! No more! Not in the State of New York. No more! We’re going to stop the cycle and we’re going to stop the cycle here.
I was in the Manhattan DA’s office when I was starting out my career. Case after case, l only the name changed. All the circumstances were the same. Young kid, coming from a special zip code. Coming from the projects. Got into a little bit of trouble. Went to juvenile, came out, got into a little more trouble. 16 years old. Got into a little more trouble. Criminal record. Criminal record. Now it was really hard. Now you had that scarlet letter on you where every employer is going to look at one thing, that scarlet letter, and they put the resume in the garbage. And then we’re going to send a 16, 17-year-old to the same prison, to the same jail with hardened criminals? With these predators who we have in these jails, you’re going to send a 16 year old baby? A baby. Into the same situation and then you’re going to be surprised when they’re victimized and hardened and hurt and they come out worse than they went in. And we’re paying for the system. We’re paying for this machine to process the same thing over and over and over again. The same pattern that leads to the same outcome. A young person without opportunity, without support, exposed to a difficult environment makes a mistake, winds up in a bad place, gets a scarlet letter, goes through an institution that hurts them, and that makes them harder. They come out, they can’t get a job, they make another mistake and they’re back in. It costs $50,000 per prison bed in the state of New York – more money than the education and tuition at Harvard University. Insanity over and over and over again.
This says no more. This says a 16- or a 17-year-old who makes a mistake should be treated as a 16- or 17-year old who makes a mistake. They should get help, they should get counseling, they should get a punishment, but not a criminal record that destroys the rest of their lives. This says we are going to seal records. We are going to seal records of people going forward who have a criminal offense, but who are then clean for a period of time. We are going to seal their record so that they aren’t always going to have to write on their resume that they’re a felon and get knocked out of the job market. This bill says we are going to go back ten years and anyone who committed a criminal offense in the past ten years, but has been clean, we are going to seal those records too. 12,000 people are going to be given a second chance.
This law says Kalief Browder did not die in vain. Putting 16- and 17-year-olds in the same facilities as hardened criminals is an injustice that is going to stop and it is going to stop now. Putting a 16- and 17-year old on Rikers Island is an abomination. Rikers Island is an abomination. And don’t tell me it’s going to take ten years to fix that abomination, because when you want to do something you do it and it doesn’t have to take ten years to end the injustice of Rikers Island. If they weren’t poor people and they weren’t minorities and they weren’t criminals, you would see how fast we could get it done if we wanted to get it done. But whatever the city does, the state is demanding all 16- and 17-year-olds are off Rikers Island by next year, period, by the operation of state law.
I was sitting with Akeem when we were doing the bill and we were sitting there one of the last nights and we were having one of the last conversations. When we were going through provisions that had to be in the bill, a Senator from upstate New York said don’t forget Kalief Browder. We have to get the 16- and 17-year-olds out of Rikers Island and we have to do it by next year.
Your brother did not die in vain. Your brother died to make a social change and he has. God bless you. God bless all of the people who worked on this and God bless the great state of New York. Reverend Sharpton, Akeem, come join me to sign the bill.