HUDSON — Young offenders may be sent to Berkshire Farm Center in Canaan after state legislation takes effect in October that will raise the age for teens to be tried as adults.
Phase one of “Raise the Age” begins Oct. 1, leaving counties to figure out where to place 16-year-olds who constitute a separate classification of detainees.
Phase two will take effect Oct. 1, 2019, which will raise the age to 18 years old.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee approved a resolution requested by the county Department of Social Services at its Tuesday meeting to change the contract between the county and Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth to provide secure and non-secure detention services for this new population of detainees.
Berkshire Farm is a nonprofit child welfare agency at 13640 State Route 22, in Canaan, that has facilities all over the state.
“We have to make sure we have separate detention locations for young folks,” county Department of Social Services Commissioner Robert Gibson said. “This is a separate population. We will work with the center and hopefully there is not a great need for their services, but just in case, we do need them.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for the state legislature to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, and legislation was passed April 2017 that will do just that over two years.
The Raise the Age law creates a new category called Adolescent Offenders who are 16- or 17-year-olds who commit felony-level crimes and whose cases are heard in the youth division of criminal court. If the judge determines there is a need for pre-trial detention, the juveniles will be held in the new specialized secure detention facilities for older youth, according to the state’s website.
Crime among offenders ages 16 and 17 has decreased over the past year statewide as of August, according to data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The number of 16-year-olds charged with violent and nonviolent felonies statewide in the first quarter of 2018 was down 6.7 percent from the same time in 2017. The number of 17-year-olds charged with violent and nonviolent felonies statewide in the first quarter of 2018 was down 14 percent from the same time last year.
A Berkshire Farm Center facility is an option Greene County is considering, county Administrator Shaun Groden said.
“We are also considering the Albany County facilities to house our female offenders and Westchester County facilities for male offenders,” Groden said. “These things are very expensive, but we have a low population. This past year we had only 12 offenders in that age group.”
In the first quarter of 2018, a total of 16 young people ages 16 and 17 were charged with crimes, compared to 15 charged with crimes the same time last year. Two of those were nonviolent felonies and none were violent felonies, according to data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Columbia County had a total of 25 young people ages 16 and 17 charged with crimes in the first quarter of 2018 compared to 36 charged the same time last year, and of those, 11 were charged with violent or nonviolent felonies.
Counties are required to put money in their budgets for 2019 to handle the new category of offenders, but the state will reimburse the counties for what they spend as long as their budgets stay within the property tax levy cap, which is set at 2 percent this year.
“I am projecting we will be below the tax cap in 2019 and within the tax cap in 2020,” Groden said. “So it is a budget-neutral thing for us.”
Columbia County is working on its budget for 2019, but Gibson said he is assuming the state will reimburse the county for its costs.
“The state said it will reimburse the counties 100 percent of its costs,” Gibson said. “I am taking them at their word.”
Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann, who has advocated for social justice issues in the past, said she is concerned about what using Berkshire Farm Center will mean for families.
“Berkshire Farm’s secure services are in Albany,” Mussmann said. “How will families be able to talk to their kids in Albany? And if this goes forward what are we going to do to help parents to go see their kids in Albany?”
Mussmann supports keeping the new group of offenders separate from adult-offender populations.
“We don’t want to have children mixed with adults in the same space,” Mussmann said.