NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday he would seek to pardon thousands of people convicted of nonviolent crimes as teenagers in an attempt to remove a major obstacle to securing employment, housing and education.
The executive action stems from Cuomo’s broader “Raise the Age Campaign,” an effort to change New York law that requires 16- and 17-year-old criminal defendants to be tried as adults.
New York is one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that prosecutes all 16-year-olds as adults.
Cuomo said he would invite anyone who was convicted of a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor at age 16 or 17 to apply for pardons, as long as they have remained crime-free for 10 years.
If they meet those criteria and satisfy certain other conditions, such as staying up to date on income taxes, they are essentially guaranteed a pardon.
There are approximately 10,000 people who potentially qualify for the pardons, and 350 people each year join their ranks, Cuomo said.
The governor’s office will actively reach out to candidates for pardons, starting with those convicted in 2004.
Cuomo said in a statement that his actions would combat a “life sentence of stigmatization” for teenagers who find it more difficult to secure employment or attend school because of a conviction.
“This initiative is about validating the personal commitment of people who turned their lives around and rejected crime in exchange for being a contributing member of society,” he said.
Advocates have long argued that New York’s law is antiquated, pointing to studies that show alternatives to regular criminal court, such as youth courts, are more effective in helping young offenders.
The state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, has called on the legislature to raise the minimum age for adult criminal responsibility to 18, but lawmakers have thus far not acted.
“It is a major step forward in the effort to combat the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction and will serve as a model for governors throughout the nation,” Norman Reimer, executive director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said in a statement.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Alan Crosby