May 1, 1999

AN ACT to amend the family court act, in relation to the age of runaway children and persons in need of supervision.

Position: Oppose

This bill would extend the court's jurisdiction over "persons in need of supervision " (PINS) by raising the age of children subject to PINS judicial proceedings from sixteen to eighteen. The NYCLU urges the abolition of PINS jurisdiction and therefore opposes any measure that would expand that jurisdiction, including this bill. However well-meaning the intent of the Legislature in enacting PINS jurisdiction, coercive court intervention in the lives of children who have not committed crimes is not rehabilitative. There is evidence to suggest that it is in fact harmful. Under certain extraordinarily vague definitions within the family court act, the social services law, and the penal law, children who are denominated by the state as "incorrigible", "ungovernable", "habitually disobedient" or "beyond the control of parents" are deemed "persons in need of supervision" and are subject to the jurisdiction of the court system -- even though they have committed no crime. There is now ample evidence that coercive court intervention and detention of children who have committed no crimes increases the likelihood of subsequent criminal behavior.

Originally the product of 19th century liberal reform, the institutionalization of children for the benevolent purpose of rehabilitation has turned into an Orwellian nightmare of custody, confinement, and punishment. The sad reality is that PINS proceedings are not rehabilitative. Indeed, if anything, the process has shown to have a deleterious effect. Studies in the 1930's and 1940's by psychologists and sociologists such as Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, Clifford Shaw and Henry D. McKay demonstrated very high rates of subsequent arrest for real crimes of children who had spent time in training schools. Later studies have confirmed these findings. Summarizing the available research for the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, sociologist Edwin Lemert pointed out that youth who come under court jurisdiction at an early age commit more rather than fewer crimes later on. "The conclusion that the court processing rather than the behavior in some way helps to fix and perpetuate delinquency in many cases is hard to escape", Lemert says.

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