Ensuring that children in conflict with the law are treated justly and effectively has been a global concern of Human Rights Watch for 20 years.

We have advocated against the death penalty for children in Iran, Sudan, and Yemen, and against life without parole sentences for youth under the age of 18 in the United States; protested ill-treatment of children in detention in Australia; protested the global overuse of detention of children; and sought to prevent lowering the age of criminal majority in Brazil – among much other work.

But right here in New York, where Human Rights Watch has its headquarters, 16- and 17-year-olds are – automatically and without any regard to their individual circumstances – prosecuted as adults. New York and North Carolina are the only US states where this is the case.

This is neither just nor effective.

In fact, trying youth as adults makes communities less safe. Extensive research has shown that youth sent to the adult criminal system face greater violence and few opportunities for education, treatment, and age-appropriate rehabilitation. As a result, they are more likely to commit new crimes than those in the juvenile system.

And the ever-evolving field of neuroscience and our understanding of child and adolescent development make it clear that 16- and 17-year-olds do not have the same capacity as adults to understand the implications of their actions. It is essential for the government’s response to their crimes to recognize their development. Saddling a 16-year-old child with an adult criminal record is unfair and counterproductive, making it harder to turn their life around.

Those too young to vote, and to legally buy cigarettes or alcohol, should not be prosecuted in adult courts or sent to adult prisons. Human Rights Watch is proud to support Raise the Age New York, a campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions that have come together to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York – and urges legislators in Albany to ensure that an agreement is included in the budget that comprehensively raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18, supporting a more just and effective solution to crime committed by children and adolescents.