The Youth Who Remain: Pedro Hernandez and the Youth who Remain on Rikers Island until the Implementation of the Raise the Age Law
By Eunice Revis, Juvenile Justice Fellow, and Jeree Thomas, Policy Director
In April, Governor Cuomo signed a budget bill that included language to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that the majority of 16 and 17-year olds would no longer be incarcerated, tried, or treated as adults. However, the legislation does not go into effect until October 1, 2018 for 16-year olds and October 2019 for 17-year olds. In addition, it bans the placement of youth under 18 in adult facilities by October 2018. Finally, the law stops short of protecting all youth under age 18; it allows youth age 14 and older to still be tried as adults if they are charged with serious felonies; as is the case with Bronx Teen, Pedro Hernandez.
In Shaun King’s recent article in the New York Daily News, he highlights the story of Pedro Hernandez, a 17-year-old inmate at Rikers Island who was arrested 13 months ago on suspicion of a connection to a 2015 shooting outside of a Bronx grocery store. Despite eight eyewitnesses, including the shooting victim, asserting that Hernandez was not involved, he was still charged. The district attorney offered a plea deal to Hernandez for release, but he refused, stating “I’m not pleading guilty to something I did not do. I’m willing to stay and fight this because I’m innocent”. Like Kalief Browder, Hernandez is fighting for long-delayed justice.
Hernandez managed to earn his GED while at Rikers, and assist other students in their efforts to do the same. An honors student in his Bronx High School, Hernandez was nominated for a full college scholarship from the Posse Foundation. This dream was disappearing because of his incarceration, with bail set at 250,000, which his family couldn’t afford. Due to the public outcry about his case, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation posted bail for Hernandez today, after a judge reduced it to $100,000. While Hernandez must return to court in September, at least now he is back home with his family, where he can receive the love and support that all teens need to develop into thriving adults.
Like Hernandez, approximately 150,000 youth under the age of 18 are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year in the United States. These youth are subject to a higher risk of suicide, physical abuse, and sexual abuse when they are held in adult facilities. It is critical that communities and advocates do not forget the youth who remain in these facilities prior or even after significant reforms (many of which exclude youth who have been charged with felonies or violent crimes, despite many of them being exonerated or pleading to lesser crimes that release them back to the community, as would have been with case with Hernandez if he accepted the DA’s plea offer). Pedro Hernandez’s case is representative of the ongoing struggle and the need to alleviate immediate injustices embedded in the system.
To learn more about how to raise awareness of this issue in your community and to get tools on how to combat it visit: www.campaignforyouthjustice.org. Sign up to take action and plan an event during Youth Justice Action Month in October. The first step toward change is educating and mobilizing communities. We hope you will support, highlight, and fight for the youth who remain in adult courts, jails, and prisons.