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Cuomo supports change in law to try minor offenders as juveniles

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Cuomo supports change in law to try minor offenders as juveniles
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New York State and North Carolina are the only two states in the nation that allow juveniles to be tried as adults. But here in New York there is a movement to raise the age to be tried as an adult to 18. And now, Governor Cuomo is firmly behind the idea. State House Reporter Zack Fink filed the following report.

NEW YORK STATE -- Ismael Nazario was arrested for robbery at the age of 16. He was sent to Rikers Island and jailed with the adult population.

"At the time and that age, you know 16, young, hardheaded, you don't think about it being terrifying,” Nazario says. “But now, as a grown man looking back? Of course, absolutely."

Nazario now works at the Center for Community Alternatives, an organization which helps provide alternatives to prison. He says 16- and 17-year-olds do not belong in the adult prison system.

"They are dealing with adolescents as adults,” Nazario explains. “However, adolescents need services.”

A movement is gaining steam in New York State to raise the age to be tried as an adult to 18. That means 16 and 17-year-olds would be treated as juveniles, much like those offenders aged 15 and younger.

Governor Cuomo announced his support for the measure earlier this month.

Cuomo said, "It's not right, it's not fair. We must raise the age."

Experts say even 18 is young, but in today's society that is considered old enough.

Josefina Bastibas of the Center for Community Alternatives says, "25 years old is the age that biology and all the research indicates that is when the brain is fully developed as an adult."

Bastibas says the ramifications of trying young people as adults include an increased likelihood of physical abuse inside the system and higher recidivism rates. But there are other consequences as well. Adult felony records stay with people, making it harder to get housing or a job.

Cadeem Gibbs, who was convicted of robbery as a teenager, was recently turned down for a job at a big retailer.

"I just felt kind of disheartened because I feel like this was something that happened when I was 17 years old, and I’m 23 now,” says Gibbs. “And I obviously didn't know then what I know now.”

State Senate Republicans said in a statement that they are waiting to hear from the state's district attorneys before taking a position on the measure to raise the age requirement.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance supports the measure. So does the head of the state's district attorneys’ association, Kathleen Rice, who is an ally of Cuomo's.

North Carolina also has a bill to change the age requirement, but it has stalled in the state legislature.

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