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Cuomo backs plan to keep teenagers out of NY's adult prisons

Governor Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports a plan that would keep teenagers out of New York's adult prisons. A commission appointed by Cuomo released a scathing report yesterday that found too many young people in state prisons are being assaulted or victimized.

Right now 800 teenagers are held in adult jails and prisons across New York. The vast majority -- 82 percent -- are black and Hispanic, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Credit Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing recommendations on reforming the Justice system's treatment of minors.

According to the commission's report released yesterday, those 16- and 17-year-olds locked up with adults face high risk of being victimized, and are much more likely to commit suicide than young people held in juvenile facilities. New York is one of only two states that still imprison 16-and 17-year olds with adults. Cuomo said that has to change.

"This is one of those issues that has gone on for a long, long time without resolution. And an issue where frankly we have done a lot of damage in the meantime," Cuomo said.

The commission said, by 2017, young offenders should instead be sent to new youth courts or to new, smaller juvenile facilities. Commission members also want teenagers who commit nonviolent crimes to have their records sealed if they stay crime-free after release.

"Young offenders who stay out of trouble will get a second chance, so that they can get jobs, enter the Army, or college, or law school, and New York State will once again be the nation’s true leader in juvenile justice," said Jeremy Creelan, who co-chaired the commission.

The governor said he will send the panel's proposals to the state legislature. Since taking office, Cuomo has steadily scaled back the state’s prison system. He reduced the number of inmates and closed correctional facilities. Those efforts have faced opposition from the Republican-controlled state senate.

Soffiyah Elijah, head of a reform group called the Correctional Association and a member of Cuomo's commission, said she hopes the legislature will act on the proposal swiftly. "I would hope that the Republican Senate and all elected officials will see this as an opportunity to improve the quality of life for everyone, and will embrace these recommendations not based on party affiliation," she said.