Legal Aid Society


LAS Renews Call to End Arrest and Prosecution of Children

The Legal Aid Society, in response to a report in today’s New York Times, called on Albany to enact legislation (S4051/A4982) that would end the arrest and prosecution of children who are under the age of 12.

New York sets its minimum age for arrest and prosecution of children as juvenile delinquents at age 7, the second lowest age set by statute in the United States. Across New York in 2019 alone, police arrested over 800 elementary school children ages 12 and younger. Children of color disproportionately suffer the brunt of this practice.

Rather than relying on arrests and prosecutions of elementary school-aged children, New York can promote true community safety and safe access to mental health care for children by ensuring that its system of local, community-based services is available to families of children whose behavioral needs would otherwise expose them to police and the legal system. This legislation would also end the secure detention of children under age 13.

This call also comes in response to reports nationwide of egregious arrests and prosecutions involving young children in such places as Brasher Falls and Rochester, New YorkNorth Carolina and Maryland.

Raising the minimum age for prosecution in delinquency proceedings has emerged as a national issue as over half of U.S. states (28) have no minimum age for prosecuting children. The United States remains an outlier throughout the world in the prosecution of young children; 14 is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally.

“What we know now is that the science doesn’t support prosecution of second graders,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society.