Legislative witnesses hold forth on how old a juvenile should be

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After stalling out during the regular legislative season, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal for a Second Chance Society is awaiting action by the General Assembly later this week. Among other things, the governor asked for the elimination of bail bonds for misdemeanor offenses and that 18- to 20-years be tried as juveniles — an idea that engendered both support and opposition.

The governor has now dropped the age adjustment idea as a political compromise, but a long list of witnesses provided testimony both for and against the idea during a Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year. The complete list of witnesses and their testimony is available here. Below, however, are some excerpts on both sides of the issue:

Jenny Flynn and Farah C. Hage-Sleiman, Juvenile Sentencing Project, Civil Justice Clinic, Quinnipiac University School of Law:

The Juvenile Sentencing Project at Quinnipiac University  School of Law supports  SB 18’s provisions that would raise the age of the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction through age 20 by July  1, 2019.  The proposal  is supported by a well-established body of research in developmental psychology  and neuroscience that shows that the brains of these young adults  are not fully developed.

Moreover, the bill recognizes that young adults who make mistakes should not pay for the mistake for the rest of their lives. The Civil Justice Clinic at Quinnipiac represents individuals who have been denied public housing, licenses, and employment based on convictions that occurred when they were young adults. Our clients continue to face barriers based on these convictions even years later when they have fully turned their lives  around.

We respectfully ask that the committee consider amending SB 18 to give judges the discretion, where good cause exists, to depart from a mandatory minimum sentence when sentencing a child who has been transferred to adult court.

David McGuire, Legislative  and Policy Director for the American  Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT):

By eliminating cash bail where unnecessary to protect against real risk of flight or being a danger to others, SB 18 will eliminate a penalty for simply being poor.

By raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 20 years old, this bill will help to ensure that our justice system does not permanently penalize young adults for actions they take before true maturity. …

Connecticut’s current, broken cash bail system also exacerbates unconscionable racial inequities. Nationally, Black Americans are jailed at four times the rate of white Americans, and court systems issue higher bail amounts for Black and Latino Americans ages 18 through 29 than for people from other ethnic or racial groups. Although eliminating cash bail will not solve the disturbing disparities in our justice system, it would offer one important step toward their remediation.

Suzanne Bates, policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy:

We do not support changing the age of a person considered an adult under the criminal justice system from 18 to 20.

However, we do support reforming the pre-trial system in our state. The Yankee Institute recently published a policy brief on this subject in conjunction with the Reason  Foundation  called, “Reforming the Constitution State’s Pre-Trial  System.”

In it, we recommend moving away from a cash bail system to the use of a data­ driven, risk-assessment tool to determine who should be held in jail before trial. Right now, whether your bail is $1,000 or $1 million, your detention is largely determined by your ability to pay. Instead, we should focus our efforts on keeping the riskiest defendants in jail, while using alternative methods to monitor less risky individuals.

The Connecticut Psychological Association:

In three recent cases about the constitutional limits of punishment of children, the U.S. Supreme Court has emphasized that children are both less culpable than  adults and more capable of change than adults. In reaching these conclusions, the Court has relied heavily on an ever-growing body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience. This research establishes  critical  differences  between  adults and  children.   In  particular,  compared  to adults, adolescents are:

  • less able to control their impulses;
  • less capable of considering alternative courses of action and avoiding risky behaviors;
  • less able to envision the future and appreciate the long-term consequences  of  their actions; and
  • more susceptible to outside influences, including peer pressure

Thus, adolescents are less capable of making mature judgments and decisions than adults, especially in social situations in which they are most likely to be exposed to criminal activity. Because adolescents are still maturing and changing, their crimes often reflect qualities of youth, rather than permanently bad characters.

Sarah Bryer, director of the National Juvenile Justice Network:

The last element of reform critical to bringing Connecticut’s system in line with proven    science is to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 21. We know that neuroscience shows young people’s brains are not fully developed until the age of 25. This — when added to evidence that shows young people age out of offending behavior — implies that an alternative approach to hold these youth accountable is required. Knowing we can achieve better outcomes for these  youth and communities, the proposed reform in SB 18 to bring youth back into the juvenile system is a logical next step.

The reforms included in both HB 5642 and SB 18 position Connecticut’s system as a model of innovation and best practice, while positioning youth to have bright futures. We encourage the committee to pass these pieces oflegislation and continue to explore oppo1tunities to continually invest in your communities, creating a full continuum of services and programs to   ensure positive youth outcomes.

Andrew Marocchini, president of the Bail Association of Connecticut

Throughout my tenure as a surety bondsman my company and staff have provided our pre-trial services to thousands of defendants and their families. These services include the release, supervision and if needed apprehension of criminal defendants while they navigate their way through our judicial system. We have done this at no cost to the tax payers of Connecticut while providing 1,000 much needed professionally licensed jobs.

The industry’s primary concerns with this legislation are the potential unintended consequences it may have on our state’s public safety, the ability to ensure that an arrested person will be released on reasonable terms, and the devastating impact it will have on our industry and the 1,000 people we employ.

As you are all aware, prior to the start of this year’s legislative session, Governor Malloy requested that the Connecticut Sentencing Commission examine the state’s current bail system and the possibility of its reform.  The focus of the Governor’s request was the concern that a significant number of indigent defendants were incarcerated only because they could not afford a minimal amount of bond for their release.

… Misdemeanor charges may seem somewhat mild relative to felonies on a cursory look. Nevertheless, when you look at some of the crimes categorized as misdemeanors you will see that many have violent aspects to them and are not victimless crimes, such as assault, reckless endangerment, abuse, etc. We are suggesting that crimes of violent nature should not automatically be given a PTA and should continue to allow for the courts review, consideration and discretion.

What do you think?

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