Onondaga County is among counties in New York State gearing up for major changes as the Raise the Age legislation goes into effect next month.
Once the law goes into partial effect October 1, 16-year-olds accused of a crime won’t go through the adult criminal justice system. Deputy County Executive for Human Services Ann Rooney says that takes cases out of the county’s criminal justice system and into the department of family services. She says the county is prepared to house teens -- who under current law would be jailed at the justice center -- at the Hillbrook Detention Center, a facility geared to children under the age of 16.
"We will actually have two detention facilities inside one building,” Rooney said. “The one part that will allow for supervision of the 16 and 17-year-olds, and our traditional Hillbrook, under 16.”
There have been some structural changes to allow for 16-year-olds coming this October. The bigger change comes next year, when 17 year olds are part of the picture. Hillbrook moves from a 32-bed facility to a 48-bed facility and becomes a regional detention center, accepting youth from nearby counties as well.
“Right now I would say we are about 60 percent in-county, 40 percent out-of-county,” Rooney said. “And we anticipate with the expansion of Hillbrook we will be able to maintain those ratios.”
Rooney says along with facilities improvements, the law means staffing and program changes as the focus shifts from punishment to rehabilitation.
"We as a county are looking forward to this, because all the data will tell you that the fewer touches that a young person has with the criminal justice system, it’s much less likely that they’ll continue into the adult system.”
The state has put aside $260 million to help counties cover the costs of the launch, construction and renovation of current facilities.