Juvenile justice advocates seek to crush compromise

Hammer (photo Christine Stuart)

Lawyers are asking Democratic lawmakers to reject a bill that would give prosecutors greater leeway to send more teens to adult court and adult prison.

“We oppose the entire bill,” said Christina Quaranta, executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance. “The bill is supposed to reduce crime, but it does none of that. It does not attack the fundamental problems and the causes that lead to crime.

HB 5417 was designed as a compromise to several Republican proposals that would have automatically sent 13- and 14-year-olds to adult court for certain violent crimes and given police and prosecutors more power to detain and track accused teens of violent crimes. and car thefts.

After car thefts and arrests of minors for auto thefts spiked during the pandemic, Republicans hammered Democrats as soft on crime and unwilling to tackle minors who commit violent crimes.

a green button that says support and a red button that says oppose

But Quaranta said the bill, crafted during a gubernatorial election year, was “campaigning on the backs of children.” She vowed that in the coming days her organization would urge Democratic lawmakers not to vote in favor of the bill. “It makes it easier to send children to detention,” she said. “It’s just a bandage.”

Judiciary Committee Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, called the compromise bill that included numerous Republican proposals to deal with minors who repeatedly commit crimes.

“I am pleased with the bipartisan effort that has gone into the bill,” Fishbein said. “I will vote for it.”

Fishbein also noted that nearly all members of the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of sending the bill to the House.

The version of the bill that will be debated in the House in the coming days does not include the section that would have required 13- and 14-year-olds charged with serious crimes to be granted automatic remand to adult court.

But it allows courts to require GPS monitoring of minors charged with a second car theft and expands the length of a minor’s sentence for a ‘serious’ homicide, firearms or sex offense beyond the current maximum sentence of 30 months for minors.

The bill also allows police access to minors’ records for criminal investigations in their municipalities, requires arrested children to be brought before a judge within five days of their arrest, and extends the time limit from six to eight hours. during which a minor may be detained by the police pending a detention order from a judge.

It would also create a new penalty structure for auto theft based on whether it is a first or subsequent offense and not on the value of the vehicle. Other sections include $1.25 million in funding for the Judiciary’s REGIONS program for juveniles who are on probation but must be in a closed residential setting, $750,000 for the Juvenile Alternative Incarceration Program from the branch and $1 million for the State Department of Emergency and Utilities. Protection of regional crime reduction strategies.

The money is an indication that the committee was willing to fund initiatives that would tackle the root causes of crime, Fishbein said. “Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t read the bill,” he said.

The bill does not include any of the recommendations of the state’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee, which proposed that minors charged for the first or second time with simple trespassing, creating a public disorder, disorderly conduct and sixth-degree robbery would not be arrested, but referred to a youth service office or juvenile review board in their city or region.

YSB or JRB would determine if the child, or family, needed services and address responsibility for the crime with restorative practices such as an apology, community service, or restitution.

JJPOC members also voted to send a recommendation to the legislature that would expand the committee to include four members of community organizations who had expertise in juvenile justice. But that was not followed up either.

Quaranta hopes that some of JJPOC’s recommendations will be incorporated into other bills before final passage in the House and Senate.

HB 5417, as it stands, will disproportionately impact black and brown youth who tend to be arrested, detained and convicted at a higher rate than white teens, according to Quaranta.

“Connecticut knows best,” Quaranta said. “It’s disappointing that it’s being presented as ‘look, we’ve come together to reduce crime’. It’s definitely not going to do it.

Elna M. Lemons