In New Jersey, minors who commit certain crimes face the same punishment as adults. But the punishment for crimes by minors in the adjoining state of New York can be very different. A separate sentencing scheme exists there for minors, and minimum prison terms there are shorter than New Jersey’s.
A 15-year-old convicted of robbery in New Jersey faces a minimum sentence of eight-and-a-half years. For the same crime in New York the sentence is a minimum of one year. A 15-year-old who commits a murder in New Jersey could go to prison for at least 25 ½ years. In New York the minimum sentence for the same crime is five years.
As part of its “Kids in Prison” series, WNYC examined the sentencing disparities among minors sent to adult prison in New Jersey and New York in the past five years. It found that 20 percent of New Jersey minors are doing 10 or more years in prison, whereas less than 5 percent of the New York minors face that length of sentence.
“I don’t think that we can say that one of these systems is better. They are both bad,” because kids in both states are subject to similar maximum penalties, said Laura Cohen, director of the Criminal and Youth Justice Law Clinic at Rutgers University. “Children should not be prosecuted in the adult system, period.”
But, she said, at least minors convicted as adults in New York have the possibility of earlier parole than their counterparts in New Jersey.
One New Jersey inmate was 16 when he committed two murders; he will get to go before a parole board in 2116 — 100 years from now.
As part of its series, WNYC contrasted the life of minors in New Jersey’s adult prisons with the experiences of minors imprisoned in Germany, where the approach to incarceration and sentencing is far different.
on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.