HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, less than three weeks away from the start of the 2017 General Assembly session, made it clear Thursday that he will once again be pushing hard to pass legislation allowing 18-to 20-year-olds to be tried as juveniles.
“It is time to put our foot on the pedal, not the break,” when it comes to pushing for juvenile justice reform,’’ said Malloy, who in 2016 was unsuccessful in getting his Second Chance 2.0 legislation passed.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, fearful it would cost them votes in the November election, believed the legislation was soft on those convicted of crimes.
Some were also hesitant about giving younger people the ability to have their cases decided in a juvenile court that’s not open to the public.
But Malloy said now is not the time to quit fighting the good fight, stating that, “We are at the lowest crime rate in Connecticut in 50 years. We have the lowest prison population rate in 22 years.”
He added all the numbers, and trends, and studies indicate that the state’s efforts to push juveniles towards rehabilitation and not jail are working.
Over the last year, Connecticut experienced the second-largest drop in violent crime in the country. Connecticut was one of only nine states to see a drop in violent crime between 2014 and 2015, according to F.B.I. statistics. At the same time, the number of murders in the state increased by 31.5 percent.
In 2015, Malloy was able to get the the legislature to agree to a package of criminal justice reforms that got rid of mandatory minimums for possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of schools or daycares.
Outside the JJPOC meeting, Malloy, a Democrat, said he believed the juvenile justice reform initiatives will have a better chance with this coming year’s legislature, even with more Republicans in it than last year when it failed.
“I think a year’s time, and, frankly a year’s positive results should speak for themselves,” Malloy said.
The governor also added that, hopefully, the legislature will tackle the juvenile justice reform issue early in the legislative session.
“Leaving it until the last day of the session is the wrong way to do this’’ said Malloy, referring to the last ditch unsuccessful effort to pass legislation in 2016.
Back in the JJPOC meeting, Malloy said that studies show “the human brain does not fully develop until you are 25.”
Malloy said the type of “second chance’’ legislation he is proposing for juveniles can end the “school to prison pipeline’’ that forces people to suffer a lifetime of consequences for a small mistake made at a young age.
Malloy added that just because he is pushing for juvenile justice reform, it doesn’t mean he is soft on crime.
“Violent offenders are doing more time than ever before,” Malloy said.
During his tenure, Malloy has closed three prisons and there are plans to close one more before the end of the fiscal year. However, Malloy did not know which one is on the chopping block.
There are 20 correctional facilities in Connecticut.
Over the past year the Correction Department’s budget has been reduced $71 million. And the Connecticut Juvenile Training School run by the Department of Children and Families in Middletown is already scheduled to be closed before July 2018.
Last year, Malloy charged JJPOC to prepare recommendations for new legislation on how to treat juveniles.
JJPOC, in turn, enlisted the help of researchers with the Program in Criminal Justice Policy & Management, Harvard Kennedy School, who presented their findings of the Connecticut juvenile justice system at JJPOC’s Thursday meeting.
Senior Research Fellow Vincent Schiraldi said time has changed the way juvenile justice has been treated in the country.
Back in the 90s, Schiraldi said, the conventional thinking for young people convicted of criminal acts was, “Adult time for adult crime.”
That thinking changed, over time, to where those who studied the activities of young criminals asked the question, “Are kids all that different from adults.” The answer is yes,” said Schiraldi.
He added, also: “There is no magic birthdate. The law prefers a stark line, but that’s not the way developmental psychology works.”
What studies also show, Schiraldi said, is that once a juvenile is incarcerated, it puts them on a bad track.
“When juveniles are placed in a detention system, Schiraldi said, “they become greater risk takers, particularly when they are in the company of their peers,’’ meaning they are more likely to become repeat criminals, and repeat convicts.
Schiraldi said there are “more than 50 local initiatives’’ across the country similar to Connecticut – to raise the age of when young people can first be arrested.
Fellow Harvard Kennedy researcher Lael Chester said it was “extraordinary’’ that even though Connecticut raised the juvenile jurisdiction age to include 16 and 17 year olds, from 2008 to 2015 there has been a “whopping” 68 percent decrease in arrests.
State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chair of JJPOC, said the committee has a lot of work to do – and will do it, slowly but methodically.
“These kids have more mental health issues than anything else that we really need to look at,” Walker said.
“By incarcerating them it doesn’t help the circumstance. There’s got to be another formula to how we address this population,” she added.
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.