New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has prepared a sweeping public safety plan that would include rollbacks of recent criminal and youth justice reforms, and funding boosts to mental health services, youth employment and other court-assigned support programs, according to a memo obtained by The Imprint.
The 10-point plan first reported by the New York Post on Thursday comes amid an uptick in gun violence. In response, a contentious debate has emerged between the New York City mayor and law enforcement seeking more punitive tools, and children’s advocacy groups and a Democratic-majority state Legislature who are resisting changes to existing laws. Those include reforms to the criminal court’s bail and discovery rules, and a youth justice reform law known as “Raise the Age.”
The New York Times reported Friday the Hochul administration was privately distributing the plan among state lawmakers in pursuit of its passage as part of the state budget, which is due in less than two weeks. The Democratic governor has not previously described her views in detail in the ongoing debate, and did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
“As the governor has said consistently since becoming governor, she does not negotiate in public,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement to The Times. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to deliver a budget that serves New Yorkers.”
Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx nor the Senate’s Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of neighboring Westchester County — Democrats who helped pass Raise the Age and other reforms Hochul now seeks to amend — responded to requests for comment by deadline. Both have stated opposition to rolling back reforms in recent weeks. A spokesperson for Heastie told The Times their office was “not aware of Ms. Hochul’s bail proposal,” and declined to comment.
The most significant youth justice provision in the plan would make a gun possession charge sufficient to “allow, but not require” judges to keep 16- and 17-year-olds in criminal court. Under Raise the Age, such cases are automatically sent to Family Court after criminal court arraignment. Exceptions include cases where the accused displayed or used the gun, or otherwise caused significant injury. In other words, teens who fire or brandish a firearm likely face a criminal court judge; teens arrested after police find an illegal gun in a backpack will likely face a Family Court judge, except in extraordinary circumstances.
2020 reporting by The Imprint found that criminal court judges were rarely keeping cases due to “extraordinary circumstances,” an undefined phrase in the law. Overall, 84% of 16- and 17-year-olds arraigned in the criminal court in 2020 saw their cases removed to Family Court or probation.
For teens whose cases stay in adult court, Hochul also proposes to grant criminal court judges broad new access to any of their prior records in Family Court, potentially including foster care or custody records, in addition to delinquency. Prosecutors would gain this access “for the purposes of setting bail, determining appropriate resource needs of the defendant, and sentencing recommendations.”
Hochul’s plan notes a “dramatic increase” in teens “carrying guns,” and a jump in youth gun arrests statewide from 174 in 2018 to 439 in 2021.
Some state lawmakers, public defenders and children’s advocates have released statements expressing strong opposition to Hochul’s proposal.
“We already learned of the ineffectiveness of policies of mass incarceration and the ravages they exact on Black and brown families. We cannot repeat that harm,” said Latrice Walker, an Assembly member for the Brownsville neighborhood that has been hard hit by gun violence. “We have to move forward and invest in what will actually deliver community safety and health, not engage in the political gamesmanship of the 1990s.”
“I will not vote for any budget that rolls back bail reform, discovery reform, or Raise the Age,” said Queens democratic assembly member Zohran Kwame Mamdani, in a tweet that was quickly retweeted by several other progressive lawmakers.
Youth advocacy groups blasted the governor’s proposed changes, highlighting that gun offenses only began to rise during the pandemic’s upheaval, years after Raise the Age implementation began, and was far worse decades ago before the reform went into effect.
“New York’s shameful history of charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults prior to Raise the Age confirms that doing so doesn’t make us safer,” said one coalition of nonprofits, including Children’s Defense Fund and the Citizens’ Committee For Children of New York, in a joint statement.
The group called for the governor and Legislature to instead “expand investments in a wide range of community-based resources for youth, without undermining those investments with policies that criminalize them.”
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Raise the Age legislation in 2017, making New York one of the last states to end the automatic prosecution of all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and to restrict the incarceration of those under 18 with adults. Approved after a decade of debate, the law also created a complex new court structure. Youth accused of misdemeanors all would be heard in the Family Court, while felonies would begin in a new criminal court section known as the “Youth Part.” All but the most serious of those felony cases will quickly move down to Family Court, where the emphasis on rehabilitation is stronger and records are sealed.
Since the law’s passage, prosecutors have expressed concern about their lack of discretion to keep certain cases in the criminal court, and the inability to examine teens’ juvenile records. Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills that would roll back Raise the Age, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Bronx County District Attorney Darcel Clark have recently proposed changes similar to Hochul’s plan.
In introducing his own plan to create a gun possession exception for teens early this year, Adams said the law “is being used as a loophole for gang members,” with children “being used as pawns,” by adults “forcing them to carry the weapons.”
“The governor’s proposal includes significant steps, which I have advocated for, that would make New York safer, while not undoing important reforms,” he added in a Thursday statement.
Hochul had stayed mostly quiet about her own views on bail reform and Raise the Age, but her re-election campaign competition has recently called for a stronger response to violence. In television ads, Long Island U.S. House Representative Tom Suozzi criticizes Hochul for refusing to act. Hochul’s predecessor Cuomo — reportedly considering his own campaign less than a year after leaving office amid investigations about his conduct in office — recently warned that violence was “taking over the city.”
In defending Raise the Age, youth advocates highlighted one intensive survey on gun possession with 330 youth and young adults in high-crime New York City neighborhoods. The nonprofit Center for Court Innovation reported violence was a “near universal experience” among young respondents, with roughly eight in ten having been shot or shot at and nearly two-thirds hearing gunshots monthly. Most carried guns, and mostly as a means of self-defense.
Hochul’s plan also proposes to “work with localities” to push out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding already reserved for youth justice efforts like peer mentors for youth on probation, and other court diversion and support programs. The Albany Times-Union reported last month that more than $500 million in appropriated funds had yet to be spent since Raise the Age was enacted, despite high rates of re-arrest for 16-year-olds appearing in the new criminal court Youth Part.
Year-to-date, shooting incidents are up 10% compared to last year, yet remain nearly 80% lower than 29 years ago, according to New York City Police Department data. In comparison to the 439 youth facing gun arrests statewide in 2021, there were nearly 4,100 gun arrests overall in New York City alone last year, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
State data shows the number of youth placed in state facilities after a criminal or delinquency trial also jumped 20% from 2020 to 2021.