By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) - The New York State Senate could vote as early as Friday night on whether to stop automatically prosecuting and imprisoning offenders as young as 16 years old as adults.
If passed, the "raise the age" measure would increase the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18, eliminating New York as one of only two U.S. states still trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults regardless of the crime.
North Carolina, the other holdout, is also considering measures to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
Republican and Democratic senators clashed on Friday over the measure, which has been proposed as part of the state's $152 billion budget. Some Republicans proposed separating it from the rest of the budget, while many Democrats said they would only pass a budget if it included the measure.
"We will not vote on the budget without raise the age," Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery said in a statement. "Our children deserve more than a slogan. They deserve comprehensive reform."
It was not immediately clear which details they disagreed on, and the latest version of the measure has not been made public.
Under one recent proposal, juveniles accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would be tried in family court, while those charged with more serious crimes would go to a special criminal court for youths. Juveniles would also be barred from adult jails and prisons.
Critics of the proposal say it could threaten public safety.
Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said this week it would make it harder to prosecute violent gang members, many of whom are under 18. The "raise the age" initiative would also make it more difficult to interview underage witnesses of crimes, Carnright said.
The effort is part of a larger trend to safeguard juvenile offenders.
In January 2015, former President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Announcing the change, Obama cited the case of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old held in solitary confinement for nearly two years at New York's troubled Riker's Island penitentiary.
Browder, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack, attempted suicide multiple times while imprisoned. He took his own life after being released.
Riker's Island officials last year said they would stop using solitary confinement to punish 16- and 17-year-olds. (Additional reporting by Hilary Russ; Ediring by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)