ALBANY, N.Y. — Parole officials in New York are now considering an offender’s age at the time of their crime in response to court rulings that juvenile offenders serving life sentences must have a meaningful shot at release.
The Board of Parole immediately changed its procedures after a 2016 state appellate court decision and is working on final regulations to codify the change, according to state corrections agency spokeswoman Rachel Heath.
While New York has not sentenced juveniles to life in prison without parole, critics of the parole board said it made little difference if they routinely denied parole to offenders sentenced to decades or life in prison as juveniles. Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have significantly narrowed the instances in which those who commit offenses under age 18 can be subject to the harshest penalties.
The move to consider an offender’s age in New York is the latest example of how the state’s view of juvenile offenders is changing. Earlier this year, lawmakers voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18, so 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically prosecuted and incarcerated as adults. New York had been one of only two states — the other being North Carolina — to have such a policy on the books.
“It’s about time that New York state is recognizing that juveniles are different,” said Phil Desgranges, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The science bears this out: The brains of juveniles are not fully developed. They have greater impulsivity.”
The 2016 decision by New York state’s appellate division found that a juvenile offender’s youth must be considered during parole hearings in order to give them a meaningful chance at release.