"Raise the Age" Campaign Comes to WNY

December 10, 2013 Updated Dec 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM EDT

By WKBW News

December 10, 2013 Updated Dec 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM EDT

BUFFALO (WKBW) In New York State, the age when a person can be charged and tried as an adult is 16, tied for lowest in the nation. On Tuesday, local groups joined their state-wide counterparts in calling to change that.

A coalition of local groups gathered outside the Erie County Holding Center to join forces and push state lawmakers to set the age at which a person is charged and punished as an adult from 16 to 18 years old.

"There's no way that a 16 or 17 year old should be charged as an adult under the policies that we have. They're punitive and they're unfair," Jim Anderson of Citizen Action of New York said.

The group did agree that certain circumstances and cases of heinous crimes may warrant charging a minor as an adult, but many spoke out against the fact that New York and North Carolina are the only two states that charge 16 and 17 year olds as adults.

"Almost like putting that mentally ill person into jail, knowing that they can't clearly comprehend what it is that they did," Buffalo Common Council member Demone Smith said.

The coalition is asking for more juvenile programs, education, and mentoring, instead of sending teens away to prison like their adult counterparts.

"Let boys be boys and let girls be girls. And help them become the adults that they dream of becoming," Rev. Kinzer Pointer added.

Justin Madejrich served time in jail when he was 16 and 17 years old, and believes the system is simply unfair to younger people.

"Do you think it's fair if a heavyweight boxer fights a lightweight boxer? Do you think that's fair? It doesn't make sense. The mentalities are different, the punishments, why they did the crime, they're two completely different people," he said.

Just last Friday, a State Assembly panel discussed raising the age of charging young criminals. But so far, the effort to do so has stalled in the State Senate.