By David Brand
Arrested at 15, convicted in Queens Criminal Court earlier this month at 19, Prakash Churaman grew up on Rikers Island.
Churaman’s four-year detention is the sort of teenage tragedy that New York’s new Raise the Age law is designed to remedy — but few institutional supports exist to address the experiences of young people just old enough to remain in adult facilities.
The neurobiology research is clear: young people’s brains develop well into their mid-20s and detention in adult facilities has a significant impact on that development, said Children’s Defense Fund Director of Youth Justice and Child Welfare Director, Julia Davis.
That recognition helped spur the statewide Raise the Age campaign to move 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult jails and divert the majority of their cases to Family Court. But the mental and emotional outcomes associated with youth incarceration — including suicide, substance abuse and recidivism — do not disappear the moment someone turns 18.
“Looking at 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, we know that these settings don’t meet their needs,” Davis said.
Like Churaman — who was convicted of second-degree murder — many young people who spent a chunk of their childhood on Rikers are left behind, reliving the trauma of teenage incarceration inside the same walls where they celebrated milestone birthdays, contended with puberty and took high school classes.