It’s time we find common ground on ‘Raise the Age’


Long Island has become the center of New York’s — and the nation’s — political conversation. In recent elections, state and local policies have had an enormous influence on Nassau and Suffolk County campaigns that ultimately played a decisive role in determining control of Congress.

But while politicians and party operatives struggle to find a political advantage in laws passed by Albany or our County Legislature, real people affected by these policies are waiting for those of us in office to find common ground on issues that should bring us together, not divide us.

Look at the Raise the Age law, for example. In 2017, I was proud to join both my Democratic and Republican colleagues in support of ending New York’s shameful status as one of the last two states to prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Today, thanks to the law, a large majority of young people’s cases move through family court, where the goal is rehabilitation through effective intervention rather than criminalization.

Raise the Age is a crucial component in building a healthy, sustainable future. It allows young people to get the services they need to get their lives on track. It also allows them to access quality jobs and fully contribute to our society without convictions from when they were teenagers holding them back.

Contrary to false claims labeling family court a “slap on the wrist,” young people may face mandatory programs, supervision by law enforcement, pretrial detention, and placement in residential facilities. But when the system is working well, they are connected with a range of community-based services and resources, which aim to address the underlying factors that led them to commit crimes. And they can use of those services — and the opportunities they provide — without the burden of an adult criminal record.

One such service is the SNUG Street Outreach program, which uses a public health model to reduce gun violence throughout the state by mediating conflict, mentoring youth, and working with local partners to make our streets safer. The 13 communities that are home to the program — including Hempstead — reported a 36 percent reduction in shootings with injuries from 2021 to 2023.

As a former public defender, I know firsthand how crucial services like SNUG are to the health and safety of our young people and their communities. By targeting the crux of the issue, they reduce recidivism and help struggling youth become well-functioning, productive members of their communities.

Since Raise the Age took effect, thousands of young people who would otherwise have spent months or even years of their childhood in adult jails and prisons have had access to services designed to help them improve their lives and avoid future interactions with the criminal legal system. For some, this is the first time they have had trusted adults whom they can rely on and turn to for guidance.

In recent years, I’ve been disappointed by how many of my misinformed colleagues have attempted to blame Raise the Age for an increase in crime on Long Island, especially when the data say otherwise. This should be a law that unites us.

From the law’s implementation in 2018 through 2022, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, serious crimes perpetrated by those under 18 decreased by 12 percent in Nassau County and a stunning 57 percent in Suffolk. These statistics demonstrate the efficacy of, and critical need for, community-based programming to make our neighborhoods safer.

Despite Raise the Age’s success, its implementation has received a mere fraction of the funding state leaders promised. It’s been reported that as of 2022, only $270 million of the $800 million that was appropriated for it had been invested in community-based programs and services for young people around the state. Think of how much more successful Raise the Age could be if the state adequately funded it, and community-based organizations and service providers could apply for and receive that funding directly.

It’s high time that we rise to the occasion and demand more for the most vulnerable members of our communities, and that starts by calling on Albany to invest in our youth by fully funding Raise the Age and supporting evidence-based strategies that create pathways for our young people’s rehabilitation, growth and opportunity. Let’s not let fear-mongering and political mudslinging talk us out of public policy that is proven to work — and that lifts all of us up.

Charles Lavine represents the 13th Assembly District.