A Republican Senator told members of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration Wednesday that he understands their desire not to ruin the lives of young people, but is concerned about a proposal to treat 18- to 20-year-olds like juveniles in the criminal justice system.
Malloy, as part of his Second Chance 2.0 legislation, proposed allowing 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds to have their cases heard within the juvenile justice system, as opposed to adult court.
A decade ago Connecticut and New York were the only two states that treated 16 year olds as adults.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said Wednesday that he understands Connecticut, until recently, was an outlier and Draconian in its treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds in the criminal justice system.
However, when 18-year-olds can vote and go to war, Kissel said he struggles with the idea that they would be able to appear in court without anyone knowing.
Malloy’s Chief Legal Counsel Karen Buffkin said juveniles enjoy certain protections that have not been found to be unconstitutional by the courts.
Michael Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, and Buffkin told the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the governor is essentially proposing the creation of a new class of “young adults” within the juvenile justice system.
This new class of juveniles will be treated as juveniles and receive “youthful offender” status from the time of their arrest, which means they will be able to keep their name out of the newspaper, be subject to no more than four years of incarceration, and have their records erased four years after their conviction as long as they complete their sentence.
Kissel said he’s not sure having a name published in a newspaper ruins anyone’s life.
“We have in our state constitution a guarantee to free and open courts,” Kissel said. “To make sure criminal justice is being meted out appropriately and that the public is well-informed.”
Kissel said he understands the goal of the administration is to reduce crime and it worked for the 16- and 17-year-olds, but “that’s the end justifies the means. Once you get to 18-year-olds, other considerations like the constitution kick in.”
Between 2008 and 2014, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds arrested in Connecticut fell by 54 percent, according to the Malloy administration.
Lawlor and Buffkin said the number of 18- to 21-year-olds incarcerated also dropped by 54 percent.
They attributed the drop to the 2007 “raise the age” legislation.
Kissel said he wants to help Malloy achieve the goal of reducing crime, but “without throwing a cloak over the court system.”
Malloy has expressed a desire to increase the age to 25 to match new research on brain development, but Kissel wondered “where it ends.”
Malloy’s proposal would phase in raising the age to 20 by July 1, 2019.
The bill compliments legislation put forward by the Juvenile Justice and Policy Oversight Committee, which seeks to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and move those children into community settings.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said it’s going to be an “uphill climb” to get both pieces of legislation approved this year. However, the language in Malloy’s bill gives them time to come back and make adjustments next year before it’s implemented.