For Their Futures

In New York, too many young people face harsh prison sentences and the devastating consequences of a criminal conviction that can create life-long barriers to earning and employment opportunities, education, and stable housing. 

The legislature recently recognized the harm that a criminal conviction causes a young person and “raised the age” of criminal responsibility, sending many young people who are arrested to Family Court rather than treating them as adults. Yet, tens of thousands of young people are still treated as adults and are not eligible for protections under our current “youthful offender” laws.

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Banner Image 2X Trapped Perpetual Punishment

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This a community health and a racial justice issue.

Given the enormous racial disparity in arrests, prosecution, and incarceration, these consequences are particularly devastating for young people of color. Community health, racial equity, and opportunities for growth and change for young people are dependent on better protection for their futures.

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Listen to Courtney's Story

“My life would be entirely different if I didn’t have a conviction. I would have a college degree. I would be in a corporate office somewhere. I’d be making real money. I’d be someone’s boss. I know that’s true because of my work ethic and that’s the mentality I have. I don’t want my conviction to define me as a person, but it does.” - Courtney, Age 29 

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What is "Youthful Offender" (YO) status?

New York’s legal system has crucial protections for youth up through age 18 who are prosecuted in the adult court system. These protections allow judges to replace a criminal conviction with a non-criminal adjudication by granting “Youthful Offender” (YO) status which:

• Seals cases so that they won’t show up on background checks and prevents convictions from serving as barriers for employment, education, and housing. 

• Protects immigrant youth from deportation and allows for a path to citizenship.

• Gives judges the discretion to sentence youth to treatment and other supportive services rather than prison, which, in turn, stabilizes and strengthens communities.   

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THE PROBLEM

The current YO law does not reflect the scientific consensus that adolescent brain development continues into the mid 20s or adequately account for a young person’s ability to grow and change. As a result, far too many young people are unprotected because they are over 18-years-old or because of prior court involvement. And these unprotected youth face the both the consequences of a criminal conviction as well as harsh, mandatory minimum prisons sentences.

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What is the impact on future earnings?

50%
Reduction in earnings for people who were imprisoned in their youth. (1)
21.7%
Reduction in earnings for a person with a felony conviction, even without imprisonment. (2)
16%
Reduction in earnings for a person with a misdemeanor, even without imprisonment. (2)

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What is the impact on incarceration?

6,268
New Yorkers under the age of 25 were serving a sentence in adult prison in 2021. (3)

(3) Vera Institute of Justice: People in New York State Prisons

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What is the racial impact?

80%
of emerging adults (ages 18-24) who were sentenced to prison in 2018 in New York were non-white. (4)

(4) Youth RepresentExpanding Youth Justice in New York

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The Solution:

​Pass The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act ​​

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What does the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act do?

Expands Eligibility

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act expands judicial discretion to grant YO status in almost all cases and gives judge’s the option to grant YO more than once.

Creates "Young Adult" Status

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act creates a new “Young Adult” (YA) status that protects young people ages 19-25 from a criminal conviction, which reflects the scientific consensus that young people’s decision-making abilities continue into their mid-20s.

Values Community Over Incarceration

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act gives judges the discretion to sentence young people to treatment and other community-based services rather than jail or prison.

Waives Fees

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act allows judges to waive fees and surcharges for all young people up through age 25.

Allows Retroactive Resentencing

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act allows young people with a criminal record to petition the court to be “resentenced” and granted YO or YA status retroactively, which will open future employment and earning opportunities.

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Why is the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act Important?

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act is important because it: 

Protects Young People. The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act would protect the futures of emerging adults by providing the opportunity to move forward without the barriers created by a criminal conviction.

Reflects the Science. The Act is rooted in current adolescent brain development research and would allow judges to consider how brain development affects decision making when crafting an appropriate sentence for youth.

Addresses Racial Disparities. In recognition of the racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration, the Act would promote racial equity by mandating that judges grant YO and YA in many cases. 

Saves Money for Community Investment. The Act would reduce State and local spending on youth incarceration – money that could be used to help alleviate poverty, ensure quality education, and fund treatment for mental health concerns and substance use disorders. 

The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act would stabilize communities, promote community health, and increase public safety for all.