Criminal justice experts are praising passage of the Raise the Age legislation and what it means for juvenile offenders. NY1's Lori Chung talked to one young man who says he knows all too well how critical rehab can be for teens on the wrong path.
Jim St. Germaine says he's living, breathing proof that rehabilitation works for teenagers that find themselves in trouble with the law.
"If I didn't get sent to the juvenile justice system, I might have been either dead on in jail now," St. Germaine said.
"Started out just getting into fights and skipping school. Then, I got involved in more dangerous behaviors and started selling drugs," he added.
By 15, he'd been arrested more than a dozen times. His last arrest landed him in a youth detention center, where he says he found the support he needed to turn his life around.
"I was just four months shy of my 16th birthday. So if I was just 16, I would have actually went to the adult system and ended up in Rikers Island," St. Germaine said.
Now 28, he's among those applauding the new law to raise the age and stop automatically prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, teens like Kalief Browder, who took his life after spending three years in Rikers on a charge that was ultimately dropped.
"I don't think Kalief Browder was half as of a knucklehead that I was as a kid. The only difference is that he was 16," St. Germaine said. "You're really telling that young person, 'I don't care much about your well-being or your future. Go ahead and survive for yourself.'"
Advocates with the Children's Defense Fund say "Raise the Age" is common sense.
"It's not just that young people are exposed to harm in the adult system or that young people are saddled with criminal convictions that impact their ability to get jobs, go to college, do a number of things in their lives. It's that young people that go to the adult system are more likely to reoffend," said Elizabeth Powers of the Children's Defense Fund.
But attorney Ken Montgomery says there's more work to do in changing how teens are prosecuted overall, and hopes that's the next battle.
"This now presents some problems possibly on the juvenile side," Montgomery said. "If you're going to increase the amount of juveniles that the family court system now handles, then that's going to change the culture there as well. So hopefully everyone can keep their thinking caps on."