HARTFORD, CT — Judiciary Committee members advanced a bill that would take juvenile offenders charged and sentenced as adults out of prisons in favor of placement in developmentally appropriate rehabilitative services.
Juvenile justice advocates are in favor of HB 7389, which would provide a host of new programming and supports for juveniles charged with adult offenses.
CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 7389: An Act Concerning Confidentiality In The Case Of A Discretionary Transfer Of A Juvenile’s Case To The Regular Criminal Docket And Implementing The Recommendations Of The Juvenile Justice Policy And Oversight Committee
Under the bill, the juveniles held at Manson Youth Institution and York Correctional Institution would be removed and placed in a yet-to-be-determined secure setting that would include therapeutic services. The goal is to reduce recidivism, according to Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven.
“The whole point is to try a rehabilitation that changes the children’s lives,” Walker said.
But Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were not convinced. “We are talking about 16- or 17-year-olds who are correctly treated as adults as a result of their offenses,” said Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, during the discussion that led up to the passage of the bill earlier this month.
Labriola pointed out that in previous years the legislature approved a law that allows juveniles found guilty of murder to apply for parole after 36 years, or 60 percent of a 60-year sentence, served. “There’s a big difference between serving 36 years and serving no jail time at all,” Labriola said.
A study is underway as to how the transition could be made. Currently, there are about 50 juvenile males in Manson that have either been sentenced as adults or who are being held during pre-trial proceedings after being charged as adults.
Less than a handful of juvenile females are being held at York, which is the state’s only prison for women. In both cases, the juveniles are separated from adults but still on the same grounds as adult prisons.
The proposed law would place them in facilities that are separate from adult prisons, Walker said.
Provisions of the bill would also codify changes in state Department of Correction and Judicial Branch policy on how incarcerated juveniles are treated. The Judicial Branch houses juveniles who are detained for juvenile proceedings at two detention centers in Hartford and Bridgeport. Neither facility is equipped to house juveniles for long periods of time.
In July, the Judicial Branch took over the care of 174 juveniles who were required to be in a residential setting while on probation and formerly housed at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School under the purview of the state Department of Children and Families. A little more than 50 of the 174 juveniles are still on probation and required to be in a residential setting, said Gary Roberge, executive director of the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division (CSSD), which is responsible for juvenile court proceedings.
In those cases, the defendants were adjudicated as juveniles. The Judicial Branch sought $28 million in the 2020 state budget to complete the transition to find secure facilities for those juveniles who needed to be in a locked residential setting and staffed secure facilities, which aren’t locked but are staffed 24 hours a day.
Gov. Ned Lamont recommended about $17 million, leaving the Judicial Branch with an $11 million shortfall to provide the services which were removed from DCF.
CSSD created two units, one at the Hartford detention center and one at the Bridgeport detention center, to house 24 of the juveniles required to be in a locked residential setting. The agency is still looking for long-term solutions to deal with the juveniles who must receive residential treatment while on probation. CSSD would have to form a different plan if the agency was given the task of also housing juveniles who have been charged and sentenced as adults, Roberge said.
Under the bill, staff at DOC and CSSD would have to regularly screen youth for suicidal tendencies and prohibit closed-door cell confinements for juveniles who present with an imminent risk of suicide.
Cell confinement policies for juveniles would also be reviewed and staff would be prohibited from using chemical agents such as pepper spray. Restraints that leave juveniles in a “prone” position would also be limited, under the bill.
The agencies would have to make sure youth were receiving trauma-responsive rehabilitative, pro-social and clinical programming that was embedded into their schedule seven days a week. The state’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee would have to study where juveniles charged as adults would be placed after the deadline of July 2021 when the transition from adult prison to rehabilitative services would take place.
Many of the changes were based on a highly critical report from the state Office of the Child Advocate released in January that indicated that at least half of the male juveniles at Manson participated in either zero or one program in 2017. Most of the male juveniles did not receive mental health screening or programing, the report said, and juveniles were being placed in what amounted to “solitary confinement” for periods up to 23-and-a-half hours a day.
Juvenile justice advocates are in strong support of removing teens from the adult prison system. Close to 20 people spoke in favor of the bill at a March 25 public hearing. “We need more facilities that promote growth and rehabilitation in every facet,” said Tiana Krause, a Bridgeport resident who has a friend who is incarcerated. “The one hour of productivity they are allotted a day in which you are expected to shower and make phone calls sends the message that there’s nothing better our children could be doing to better themselves and the scope of their communities, and that’s simply not true.”