Seeking big numbers when it comes to investment in children (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)
The drumbeat of headlines suggesting youth-on-youth gun violence is skyrocketing in New York City and State may be attention-grabbing, but these headlines are profoundly misleading. New Yorkers are right to be concerned about safety in their communities. However, reverting to failed, punitive policies of the past is not the answer.
Gun violence is real, and children are far more likely to be a victim of gun violence than the perpetrator. For example, in 2021 in New York City (the last year with full-year data available), of 2,011 shooting incidents on record, 95 incidents were perpetrated by a minor. Only 28 of those shooting incidents met the description of a minor perpetrator harming a minor victim; while in 156 of all incidents a minor was the victim.
While similar gun violence data is not available for all of New York State, state level data does illustrate declining youth crime in New York City and State. Youth arrests have fallen by 80% over the last decade and arrests for major (index) crimes are similarly down 79%.
When youth under 18 years of age engage in shootings and other serious crimes, under New York’s Raise the Age law, they are held accountable. All 16- and 17-year-olds charged with felonies are arraigned in the Youth part of adult Criminal Court. If they are charged with a shooting or even displaying a deadly weapon, or of causing significant physical injury, the case stays in adult court, where adult sentencing applies.
Cases that begin in or are removed to Family Court can result in detention, individual and family-based counseling, intensive case management, and access to educational and mentoring supports, as well as short- and longer-term court-ordered residential placement. Characterizing Raise the Age as diminishing accountability is wrong.
Advancing policies and budgetary commitments that improve community safety and child and family well-being should always be paramount. Shamefully, misguided calls to criminalize children and youth not only ignore the facts on Raise the Age, but they also distract from other sobering statistics that should have every New Yorker and elected representative pressing for urgent and immediate action.
There are more than 4 million children in New York State and over 700,000 of them live in poverty; more than 114,000 are homeless. More than 800,000 households with children in New York report not having enough food to eat. The state’s subsidized child care system reaches less than 10% of eligible children. And while there is little public data on the behavioral health status of all children, 20% of female and 17% of male students in New York report having considered suicide in the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for children and youth 10 to 24 years of age. These issues demand attention.
Child poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the behavioral health crisis should be the statistics making headlines, and state leaders must ask themselves: what am I prepared to do to address these pressing needs?
New York’s children and families deserve a state budget that makes meaningful investments in them - lifting incomes by raising the minimum wage and implementing tax reforms for and expanding child care to low-income households; addressing hunger by funding universal school meals; stabilizing housing and combating homelessness by supporting a statewide Housing Access Voucher Program; improving young child development and family stability by investing in early intervention and child welfare prevention; and addressing the child and adolescent behavioral health crisis by investing heavily in community-based clinical services.
The state budget must also do more than simply appropriate Raise the Age resources but must ensure all counties, including New York City, and community-based youth programs within them, access the funds.
Prioritizing these investments as Fiscal Year 2024 state budget negotiations are finalized is the surest path to safety, recovery, and well-being for all New Yorkers.
Jennifer March is Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. On Twitter @JenMarchCCC & @CCCNewYork.