Arresting a 7-Year-Old For Delinquency? New York Lawmakers Say No More

Originally published in The Chronicle of Social Change on July 21, 2020.

Many parents don’t let their elementary school-age children leave the house alone. But under New York law, children as young as 7 can be handcuffed, tried for delinquency and locked up – at times with teenagers twice their size. 

The justice system’s racial disparities are most glaring in this small corner: In New York City, children of color comprise more than 90% of those arrested ages 7 to 11, according to state data. And in 2018, every single arrest that resulted in a delinquency court petition was filed against a Black or Latino kid. 

Now, state lawmakers want to keep all very young children out of the criminal justice system, with a recently introduced bill to lift the minimum age for arrest and detention. Under this “raise the floor” proposal, no child younger than age 12 could be arrested for delinquency offenses, while anyone younger than age 13 would be barred from higher-security detention facilities. If approved by lawmakers, New York would join California and Massachusetts as the states with the oldest eligibility age for delinquency charges involving crimes committed by minors. 

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery called the reform long overdue in New York, describing it as a necessary part of lawmakers’ recent push to get police out of schools and to reduce school suspensions. 


This is clearly an outrage, and it’s unacceptable. Most of these children are children of color,” the Brooklyn Democrat said in an interview, referring to the arrest of pre-teens. “We are all marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter, and Black children matter. We can’t allow our system to treat children in such a callous manner.”

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