Established in the spring of 2016, the Brooklyn Young Adult Court (BYAC) gives special attention to young people accused of misdemeanors with particular focus on those at high risk of re-offending and those facing more serious criminal consequences. It is presided over by a dedicated judge and is staffed by dedicated prosecutors from the Brooklyn DA’s Young Adult Bureau, as well as dedicated defense advocates, and social workers. All BYAC staff have received specialized training on the unique needs of young adults.

BYAC initially handled misdemeanors involving defendants ages 16 to 24. With the implementation of the Raise the Age law, 16-year-olds accused of misdemeanors now go to Family Court, and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors will go to Family Court starting in October 2019. Misdemeanor defendants age 18-24 will continue to go to BYAC.

A specialized social worker performs an evidence-based risk-need assessment for all BYAC participants in order to determine the unique challenges facing each young person, as well as appropriate interventions to help them avoid future entanglement with the justice system. The court mandates participants to a range of evidence-based social service interventions, including substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, anger management, GED classes, vocational and internship programs, instead of incarceration. Interventions are determined by the risk level and particular needs of each defendant. All participants are given access to voluntary referrals and ongoing case management.

BYAC was created in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) and funded by a Smart Prosecution grant awarded to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and CCI by the United States Department of Justice in 2015. BYAC was modeled on the Red Hook Community Justice Center, a community court that serves a similar function to BYAC on a smaller scale in Red Hook, and which was also a collaboration with CCI and the Office of Court Administration.

Raise the Age

In 2017, New York State enacted long-overdue legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility in our state from 16 to 18 years of age. Prior to this law, known as “Raise the Age,” New York had the dubious distinction of being one of only two states that treated all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. District Attorney Gonzalez strongly supports Raise the Age and is committed to implementing it effectively.

Research into brain development shows that young people are different from adults because their brains are not fully formed. Adolescents often behave impulsively and lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. But because adolescents’ brains are still developing, they are also more receptive to positive change. With appropriate interventions, young people can learn to make responsible choices and grow out of negative behavior.

While community-based treatment, counseling and other services can help young people get on the right track, incarcerating them in adult jails with adult offenders can have lasting, traumatic effects and make young people more likely to commit serious crimes in the future.

DA Gonzalez believes that although some of our young people make mistakes, it is irresponsible for us to give up on them. We must give them a second chance and make every effort to help all young people—whether they are Latino, Black, Asian or white—to grow into adults who play a positive role in their community.

Under Raise the Age, all 16- and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors, and many accused of felonies, will have their cases heard in Family Court (some violent felonies will be tried in a special Youth Part of adult court staffed by Family Court judges). They will not be burdened with the stigma of a criminal record, and they will be provided with a range of social services that are intended to help them avoid future criminal actively. Also, young people covered by Raise the Age are not held in adult jails. Raise the Age went into effect for 16-year-olds in October 2018, and it will take effect for 17-year-olds in October 2019.

Youth Diversion and Initiatives

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