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Push by state to create new youth division court could cost county more than $1 million

A proposal to decriminalize the nonviolent offenses of 16- and 17-year-olds could cost the county more than $1 million a year, County Attorney Chuck Zambito warned the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

He called the proposed bills "a huge unfunded mandate."

Zambito said issue isn't the concept, just the lack of funding to go with it.

"It's a policy decision by the legislature and that's fine," Zambito said."I'm not necessarily against the philosophy. The problem is they're doing it without the considering the effect, what the changes are going to do to the current system, that's the problem I have with it. It's another example of an unfunded mandate. They implement it without considering the real cost for it. If they'll pay for it, then fine."

There are currently two bills under consideration. Both would take nonviolent offenses, including what are now considered nonviolent felonies, and move the prosecution of those cases out of the criminal justice system.

There would be a youth division court set up under the county court that would deal with youthful offenders and decide how to properly dispose of those cases, be it conditional discharge, probation, referral to the Department of Social Services or family court.

One proposal would require the County Attorney's Office to handle the cases, the other would put the responsibility in the District Attorney's Office.

Zambito said up and down the line, there would be additional costs for the county, from staff to handle the caseload in either his office or the DA's, to specialists handling the cases in probation and DSS.

There would also be an issue of housing youthful offenders arrested on a weekend who would be held until the youth division court opened the next business day. That cost is about $500 per day per offender.

Deputy County Attorney Durin Rogers said the drive for these bills is coming from NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Recently, in promoting the bills, LIppman said:

"Treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults flies in the face of what science tells us about adolescent development. The adolescent brain is not fully developed. Even older adolescents have a more limited ability to make more reasoned judgments and engage in the kind of thinking that weighs risks and consequences in a mature fashion."

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