Albany DA wants special legislative session on public safety

On Friday, another state Democrat joined New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ calls for lawmakers to return to Albany to make changes to its criminal justice policies.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares wants Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders to hold a special legislative session to amend Raise the Age laws that raised the age to 18 so a person can be tried criminally in the State.

“What we have are violent crimes committed by 16 and 17 year olds with no way to hold 16 and 17 year olds accountable – no ability to stop these 16 and 17 year olds from committing further acts of violence,” he said Friday in his office.

Soares wants an exception for violent and gun crimes and to create an appeals process.

He also urged lawmakers to expand the scope of cases where 16- and 17-year-olds charged with violent criminal offenses are handled through the state’s court system, saying it would help public safety and improve the ability of the justice system to protect the public from violent offenders. in vulnerable communities.​

Last week, Hochul said she wouldn’t rule out making changes to the Raise the Age Act if that’s what the legislature wants.

“People confuse bail and Raise the Age here. Raise the Age has been in effect even longer than bail change,” she said on July 26. “That’s before my term as governor, and obviously I’m willing to look at any changes the legislature wants to put forward to make sure New Yorkers are safer, no doubt.”

Lawmakers left Albany for the year more than two months ago.

But school social workers say more consequences for young people are not the answer and that the changes brought about by Raise the Age are helping to redirect struggling young people back on the right track.

“We know consequences don’t solve anything,” said Martha Schultz, the school’s social worker. “It looks good on paper, but you’re not solving anything. You’re not getting to the bottom of the problem.”

Schultz is director of the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in the Northeast Division and serves on the association’s board of directors.

She said Raise the Age has improved services for troubled teens who commit crimes, including better probation or mental health assistance, and prevents young people from a lifetime of repeat offenses or cycles in the prison system.

“We’ve seen more funding and outreach and, I think, an improved transition to using general youth services,” Schultz said. “Now we have probation opportunities and they have to comply with a series of recommendations … which include mental health, job training, family work and all those things that they would not have had before Raise the Age. “

Soares said New York City Mayor Eric Adam’s calls on Wednesday for lawmakers to come together again to change his bail reform laws also inspired him to call for their return to address his concerns about Raise the Age and push action on public safety.

Data from the Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that 98% of those awaiting trial between July 2020 and July 2021 have not been rearrested. Gun crimes and violent offenses that have increased in cities across the country since 2020 remain eligible for bail in New York City.

Soares was also inspired to convene a special session after Hochul floated the idea of ​​state-funded training for judges on Thursday following recent changes to bail laws in the latest state budget. State. They came into force in May.

“If the judges are not using the wide discretion they have because they think their hands are tied, I want to reassure them and let them know that changes have been made,” Hochul said during a briefing. press conference on arms trafficking on Thursday. “…I will take from what I hear that there may not be an understanding of what they can do. I’m ready to undertake this. I’m ready for the state to pay for that. I have to start seeing results here.”

Soares said the comments deeply offended him and were offensive to judges and district attorneys.

“It makes you speechless,” he said. “How do you answer that? Did we retroactively fail the bar exam? Did we lose our ability to read? To understand? It’s just – it’s inexplicable why she would accept legislative talking points. “

Hochul’s office did not respond to requests for comment to respond to Soares’ statements.

Hochul has focused on cracking down on the flow of illegal weapons entering the state most often used to commit violent crimes, but Soares said that doesn’t go far enough.

He continues to stress the need for lawmakers to allow New York judges to review dangerousness and review state discovery laws.

Soares and Adams, both Democrats, are calling for a special session away from the governor and other state party leaders.

The district attorney criticized state leaders and fellow ruling Democrats for not listening to people who know how the laws work.

“We have to focus on solutions, just like we have truths about COVID and vaccines. We seem to have truths about public safety, you know, truths about bail reform, and they’re just reluctant to listen to anything,” he said. “We are leaders and we have a responsibility.”

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