New York State Assembly Votes to Eliminate Archaic Term from Courts

J.M. Lesinski

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The New York State Assembly recently announced the passage of legislation aimed at eliminating the term and label “incorrigible” from Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) proceedings and in the family court system in general.

“Our family court system is intended to assess the needs of young people and to find ways to meet those needs,” said Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie of the bill. “Labeling them with words that assume that they are hopeless or incapable of changing is counter to that goal and has disproportionately impacted young people of color, particularly young women of color. This legislation sends a positive message that our family courts are meant to help and empower these young people.”

Originally used to define a person in the court systems as incapable of being reformed or corrected, the term incorrigible was determined to not align with the common goals within New York state’s current family court system. Once the bill becomes law, the word “incorrigible” would promptly be removed from the Family Court Act.

“The term is incompatible with what we say are the goals of the Family Court system, which are to help or assist young people,” said Legislative Director Mark Mishler of the bill. “The Family Court should never say that any young person can’t be corrected or does not have positive potential. We think it’s important to get rid of this word, with its old-fashioned, racist and sexist connotations, used to drag people into the legal system in a way that is not beneficial to them.”

The term incorrigible has a historically bad reputation in the courtroom, especially harmful and disproportionately applied to girls and young women of color in prejudice. The removal of the term from the family court setting will hopefully lay groundwork for more equal and unbiased court proceedings.

“The juvenile legal system and probation and Family Court can do so much harm to girls of color and Black girls in particular,” said Director of Girls for Gender Equity Ashley Sawyer of the new bill. “We see Black girls being criminalized with the use of terms like ‘incorrigible’ and ‘habitually defiant’ that have such a sexist history.”

“Labeling young people who are struggling as ‘incorrigible’ is completely out of line with the current understanding of the goals of our family court system,” said Children and Families Committee Chair Andrew Hevesi. “The label is outdated, sexist and racist and is in direct conflict with what we know to be true – that our young people are capable of rehabilitation.”

Approval of the new law among the masses has already hit social media. Rising Ground, a New York-based public service group dedicated to creating strong foundations for children, adults, and families showed their support via Facebook: “Rising Ground applauds the NYS Assembly's passage of legislation that removes the word “incorrigible" from the state's Family Court Act.”

The antiquated term also recently made headlines in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when a judge misperceived an autistic boy’s inattentiveness in court as misbehaving, unfairly labeling him incorrigible before the boy’s mother was able to correct him.

“For too long our family court system has used language that assumes young people, especially young women of color, are hopeless or beyond repair,” said Assembly Member Karines Reyes. “Using terminology like ‘incorrigible’ is unacceptable and has singled out young women of color for not meeting expectations of stereotypical feminine behavior. That type of mislabeling is harmful and incompatible with the objective of our family court system. This legislation is a step forward for all of our children.”

The bill has currently been passed by both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate and is currently in the process of being delivered to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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I have worked as a professional journalist for over five years now, covering the arts, music, food, politics, and culture up and down both coasts of the United States. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY
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