Eli Northrup Presented Testimony at City Council Hearing re: Sealing of criminal records and expansion of youthful offender status

New York State Assembly

Standing Committee on Codes and Standing Committee on Correction

Hearing re: Sealing of criminal records and expansion of youthful offender status

December 10, 2019

Written Testimony of The Bronx Defenders

By Eli Northrup, Policy Counsel to the Criminal Defense Practice

The sealing of criminal convictions is critical if New York wants to reform its criminal legal system. As the Notice for this hearing acknowledges, however, “[w]hile the sealing provisions enacted as part of Rockefeller Drug Law reform and Raise the Age legislation marked a significant step forward, the laws have been underutilized.”  This is both because the laws don’t go far enough, and because they are extremely hard to navigate. Sealing should be made more widely available and more accessible. In addition, New York should embrace automatic expungement to actually clear people’s records of criminal charges.

Moreover, youthful offender status (hereinafter “YO”) must be expanded, and older youth must be allowed to benefit. YO status is a crucial tool makes allowances for the developing brain of young adults. It provides young people charged with crimes an opportunity to put their useful digressions behind them and move on with a clean slate as they become adults.   In order to accomplish these laudable goals, certain changes must be made to the current program. Specifically: 

  • YO status should be extended to age 25.
  • Teens and young adults should get more than one opportunity to receive YO.
  • Courts should consider a wide variety of mitigation factors.

Simply put, young adults should be punished less severely than adults because they are less culpable due to their developing brains. Multiple other states have extended youth protections to young adult defendants, including Michigan, which allows YO status up to age 23, and California, which grants YO parole hearings up to age 25. We urge you to make these concrete changes that take into account what brain science already tells us:  the criminal legal system is no place for young people. 

Watch the full testimony starting at 1:47:00 here

Read the full testimony here