Another Democrat in the state on Friday joined New York City Mayor Eric Adams' calls this week for lawmakers to return to Albany to make changes to its criminal justice policies.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares wants Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders to hold a special legislative session to amend the Raise the Age laws that increased the age to 18 for when a person can be criminally tried in the state.
"What we have are violent crimes being committed by 16 and 17-year-olds with absolutely no way to hold 16 and 17-year-olds accountable - no ability to incapacitate those 16 and 17-year-olds from committing further acts of violence," he said Friday in his office.
Soares wants a carveout for violent and gun crimes and to create an appeals process.
He also urged lawmakers to expand the scope of cases where 16 and 17-year-olds charged with violent felony offenses are handled in the state court system, saying it would help public safety and improve the judicial system's ability to protect the public from violent offenders in vulnerable communities.
Last week, Hochul said she would not rule out making changes to the Raise the Age statute if that's what the Legislature wants.
"People are conflating bail and Raise the Age here. Raise the Age has been in effect even longer than the bail change," she said July 26. "It's prior to my time as governor, and obviously, I'm willing to look at any changes that the Legislature wants to put forth to make sure that New Yorkers are safer, without a doubt."
Lawmakers left Albany for the year more than two months ago.
But school social workers say more consequences for youth aren't the answer and changes under Raise the Age help redirect troubled youth on the right path.
"We know consequences don't resolve anything," said school social worker Martha Schultz. "It looks good on paper, but you're not fixing anything. You're not getting to the root of the issue."
Schultz serves as the director for the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in the Northeast Division and is on the association board of directors.
She said Raise the Age has improved the services for troubled teenagers who commit crimes, including better probation or mental health assistance, and prevents youth from a life of repeated offenses or cycles in the prison system.
"We've seen more funding and awareness and, I think, improvement in transitioning to use general services for youth," Schultz said. "Now we're given opportunities for probation and they must comply with a series of recommendations ... which includes mental health, vocational training, family work and all these things they wouldn't have had before Raise the Age."
Soares says New York City Mayor Eric Adam's calls on Wednesday for lawmakers to reconvene to change its bail reform laws also inspired him to call for their return to address his concerns with Raise the Age and push action on public safety.
Division of Criminal Justice Services data show 98% of people who have been awaiting trial between July 2020 and July 2021 were not rearrested. Gun crimes and violent offenses that have increased in cities across the nation since 2020 remain bail-eligible in New York.
Soares was also inspired to call for a special session after Hochul on Thursday floated the idea of state-funded education training for judges after recent changes to the bail laws were made in the last state budget. They took effect in May.
"If judges aren't using the broad discretion they have because they believe their hands are tied, I want to help assure them and educate them that changes were made," Hochul said at a press conference about gun trafficking Thursday. "...I will take from what I'm hearing there may not be an understanding of what they can do. I'm willing to undertake that. I'm willing to have the state pay for it. I need to start seeing results here."
Soares said the comments deeply offended him, and were offensive to judges and district attorneys.
"It renders you speechless," he said. "How do you respond to that? Did we retroactively fail the bar exam? Did we lose our ability to read? To understand? That is just - it's inexplicable why she would embrace the legislative talking points."
Hochul's office did not answer requests for comment to respond to Soares' statements.
Hochul has put a focus on cracking down on the flow of illegal guns entering the state most often used to commit violent crimes, but Soares said it doesn't go far enough.
He continues to stress the need for lawmakers to allow New York judges to consider dangerousness and revisit state discovery laws.
Soares and Adams, both Democrats, are calling for a special session deviating from the governor and other state party leaders.
The district attorney criticized state leaders and his fellow Democrats in power for not listening to people who know how the laws are working.
"We need to focus on solutions just like we have COVID and vaccine truthers. We seem to have public safety truthers, you know, bail reform truthers, and they're just resistant to listen to anything," he said. "We're leaders and we have a responsibility."