Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Paul Doyle (left) and Rep. William Tong (right) co-chair the Judiciary Committee (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – Passing legislation revamping the juvenile justice system, one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature initiatives this year, failed to make it through the Judiciary Committee Friday.

An attempt to amend the governor’s bill to “study’’ the issue failed, as the committee’s 5 p.m. deadline came and went.

Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, tried to get fellow committee members on board by calling the study bill a “complete change” from the original legislation, but his request fell on deaf ears.

“It’s unfortunate that the clock ran out before the Judiciary Committee concluded all of its business,” Kelly Donnelly, spokesperson for Malloy said. “But the good thing about our legislative process is that conversations about important issues such as these can and will continue this year – especially when they have budget implications.”

Malloy has been pushing for two years to get the General Assembly to recognize that the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, but he’s been met with mostly Republican resistance. There’s another group of socially conservative Democrats who believe state and federal law says 18 year olds are adults and there’s no reason to change that.

Malloy’s original proposal would have changed how 18 to 20 year olds are treated by the state court system.  Instead of being treated as adults they would be given “youthful offender” status and handled by the state’s juvenile justice system.

The governor has said those arrested for offenses such as “public drinking, possession of alcohol, drug offenses, shoplifting” would be the likely benefit from the legislation.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said one of his concerns about raising the age is that he didn’t understand why 18 year olds “could serve in the armed forces, go off to college,” but wouldn’t be considered adults when it came to the justice system.

Candelora, who was speaking for the Republican caucus, also said Republicans didn’t feel like their input on the initiative was sought or wanted.

The governor has had to repeatedly beat back critics of his initiative – both this year and last – who say it coddles young criminals.

Malloy has said the youthful offender status he proposed would not apply to the most serious crimes, including Class A felonies and violence crimes. Motor vehicle crimes would also have remained in adult court under his proposal.

A youthful offenders wouldn’t be incarcerated for more than four years, police and court records of the charge would have been automatically erased if that individual did not re-offend within four years after sentencing, and court proceedings for this population would have been open to the public even though the arrest records will remain confidential.

Malloy’s proposed legislation contained elements of a report, written by Lael Chester and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard’s Kennedy School, which was submitted to the legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee (JJPOC) with recommendations for juvenile justice reform.

Both Malloy and Schiraldi repeatedly stated that research shows that the brain of a younger person hasn’t fully developed until at least age 25, and, both said, younger people shouldn’t suffer their whole lives for “stupid mistakes” they make as teenagers.

“We know for a fact that the longer we keep young people out of the adult criminal justice system, the less likely they are to commit crimes and become incarcerated as adults,” Malloy said.

The governor added that the majority of young people incarcerated are minorities and he believes current law has a “disproportionate racial impact.”

The “young adults” category, under Malloy’s plan, would be phased in over time, beginning with adjusting the age of the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction through age 18 on July 1, 2018; through age 19 on July 1, 2019; and through age 20 on July 1, 2020.

The number of inmates between the ages of 18 to 21 in Connecticut Department of Correction custody has declined 60 percent since 2009, for a total reduction of 1,252 inmates. There are currently over 800 inmates between the ages of 18 to 21 in DOC custody.

One of the problems Candelora had with the study proposal is that the study was to be performed by (JJPOC) and the Sentencing Commission. Candelora said that’s a group that is predisposed to lean toward lessening penalties toward those younger than 21.

New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker, who also chairs the JJPOC, stressed that decreasing the number of prison inmates saves the state money — during a time when next year’s budget is running more than a $1.7 billion deficit.

Malloy estimated as part of his budget proposal that his proposal to close a prison, raise the age, change bail and reduce the inmate population will save the state about $11.8 million in 2018.

Since there are fiscal implications for the proposal it’s possible it could be raised as part of the budget or another bill.