Legal Aid Society


LAS Urges Governor to Enact Legislation Ending Arrest, Prosecution of Children

The Legal Aid Society called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation (S4051/A4982) that would end the arrest and prosecution of children who are under the age of 12, except those charged with homicide, reports The Imprint.

New York currently 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 who benefit from this law.

Today’s bill passage comes in response to reports nationwide of egregious arrests and prosecutions involving young children in such places as Brasher Falls and Rochester, New York; North 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.

While Black and Hispanic children make up only 57% of NYC’s population of children:

  • over 90% of children age 7-11 arrested in New York City were Black or Hispanic in 2019, according to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS);
  • over 80% of petitions filed in Family Court against children age 7-11 in New York City were against Black or Hispanic children in 2019, according to DCJS;
  • over 85% of children admitted to secure or non-secure detention were Black or Hispanic in fiscal year 2020, according to NYC Detention Demographic Data;
  • and, over 95% of all NYC youth admitted to non-secure placement and 87.5% admitted to limited secure placement are Black or Hispanic, pursuant to the disposition of their Family Court case according to NYC Detention Demographic Data.