Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York attended an event at a Manhattan synagogue in which he sharply criticized the city for not closing Rikers Island, the city's notorious jail.
"Kids are literally dying because of the policy we have today," Cuomo told the assembled crowd. "These are poor people who are members of minority groups who have long histories of being discriminated against." The audience cheered Cuomo at the event for "raising the age" — that is, changing state laws so that 16- and 17-year-old offenders are sent into the juvenile justice system instead of trying them and imprisoning them as adults.
Raising the age has become one of Cuomo's legislative priorities: New York is one of just two states — North Carolina is the other — that automatically tries 16-year-olds as adults. Critics of the state's current policies point to their stark racial outcomes: in New York City, 9 out of 10 young offenders sentenced to adult prison are black or Latino. (In North Carolina, young black offenders are nine times more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.)
Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington D.C, put these policies in explicit racial terms. "If these policies were disproportionately impacting middle and upper class white kids, these policies wouldn't be allowed to exist," he said.