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Thompson calls for reforms of juvenile justice practices

Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson (c.) is surrounded by southeast Queens community members as he calls for an end to prosecuting non-violent 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Photo by Ken Maldonado
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With a week to go in the Democratic primary, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson was joined by southeast Queens clergy and community leaders Tuesday morning when he laid out a platform involving the criminal justice system for young, non-violent offenders.

Thompson, who according to a Quinnipiac poll released earlier in the day continues to lose ground with black voters to city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, said he wanted to change a “faulty criminal justice policy” that disproportionately affects young blacks and Latinos.

“The rules of our criminal justice system are failing young people and families, especially in our communities of color. We’re here today to call to an end of the prosecution of non-violent 16- and 17-year-olds as adults,” he explained. “Let me say this plainly: We’re not talking about individuals who use gun violence or commit violent felonies. We’re talking about non-violent misdemeanors, misdemeanors committed by teens who fail to fully see the consequences of their actions.”

According to a report released in July by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the Empire State is one of only two states in the country — the other is North Carolina — that prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. About 50,000 of these youths are arrested in the state each year and 75.3 percent are charged with misdemeanors, according to the advocacy coalition.

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday showed Thompson’s support with black voters remained at 25 percent from a week earlier, while de Blasio’s had climbed 13 points to 47 percent.

Thompson said that in addition to working with state lawmakers to amend New York’s penal code, he would work at the other end to support the city’s teens by pumping an additional $7 million into the summer youth employment program.

Thompson was joined at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and the Revs. Floyd Flake, Henry Simmons and Charles Norris.

A number of Thompson’s supporters said that during his time as president of the city Board of Education, he proved to be a strong advocate for youth.

Thompson said it was under his tenure that the board transferred school safety to the New York Police Department, a policy that has been criticized by the Dignity in Schools Campaign for its heavy-handed discipline of students.

He said it was a policy he still supports, but one he thinks has gotten out of hand.

“You never wanted to see students arrested for — I’ll put it this way — the things that you might have done: pushing, shoving incidents ... even small fist fights,” he said. “Now we’re seeing young people arrested for those things. That’s wrong. That can’t continue.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 1:20 am, September 6, 2013
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