The Judicial branch confirmed Monday that going forward, all juveniles charged with a gun offense or a car theft will be arraigned at the next possible court date.
It was one of several law and policy changes that Rep. Craig Fishbein, and other House Republicans have been promoting at a series of public appearances around the state in recent weeks.
“While Governor Lamont and legislative Democrats have failed to act, I am glad to see that the Judicial branch is listening, and is administratively adopting one of our proposals: having next day arraignments of juveniles arrested for certain crimes,” Fishbein said in a press release.
The problem, according to Democrats and state criminal justice analysts, is that juvenile arrests have not skyrocketed in the past two years and juveniles make up about a third of the very low number of people who are arrested for car theft.
“Typically about 90% of auto thefts aren’t solved,” said Kenneth Barone, associate director for the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at the University of Connecticut.
Barone will be one of several presenters at a forum on juvenile crime Thursday at Fairfield Ludlow High School organized by Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield.
“Connecticut has been a leader in juvenile criminal justice,” Leeper said. “I don’t want to watch that work be undone because of a rise in crime that is happening nationally and globally during the pandemic.”
Leeper said she invited speakers with a wide array of perspectives, including Fairfield police officers. So far, car thefts are down from 2020, Leeper said. Historically car thefts have been challenging crimes to solve, she said.
“What’s being put out are feel-good proposals that give the perception of being tough on crime,” Leeper said. “Do we really want to go back to the 1980s and 1990s when we were tough on crime and there were 20,000 car thefts a year in Connecticut?”
According to state police data provided by Barone, there were 8,439 car thefts in 2020 – an increase of about 29% compared to 2019 when there were 5,996 reported car thefts statewide. In 2018, there were 7,333 reported car thefts, Barone said. The number of car thefts in 2019 was the lowest since state officials began compiling information on the crime, Barone and Leeper said.
The arrest rate for car thefts hovers around 10%, meaning that for years, only about 1 in 10 car thefts was solved by an arrest, Barone said. Of the 8% of car thefts solved with an arrest in 2020, 37% or 245 were juveniles, state police data showed. The data indicated that the other 63% of people charged with car thefts – 671 – were adults.
But, the state police figures are based on reporting by police departments which must code the incidents as one particular crime, state officials said. For instance, a juvenile arrested for auto theft, may also be charged with larceny and the crime would be reported as a larceny.
Information provided by the Judicial Branch tells a different story than the state police figures. There were 910 juveniles arrested in 2020 for auto theft, by their accounting system which specifically identifies those teens involved in the crimes.
That’s a jump of 23% compared to 2019 when 738 juveniles were charged with auto theft, the Judicial Branch figures indicated. This year so far there have been 625 juvenile arrests for auto theft, the agency said.
The Judicial branch estimated that the policy change in juvenile arraignments would affect about 85 cases per month, based on the first 11 months of 2021. Juveniles who are held in detention after an arrest are already arraigned on the next available court date. Teens who are released to their parents or a guardian generally appear in court within a couple of weeks of an arrest. The change in policy announced by the Judicial Branch would require juveniles charged with car theft or a gun offense to also be arraigned on the next available court date regardless of whether they are in state custody.
The Judicial branch also agreed recently to allow police departments to have access to juvenile records when a suspect has a criminal history in other towns. Fishbein and other Republican legislators called the move a step in the right direction.
Republicans say they want police to have automatic access to juvenile records – Judicial branch policy allows officers to request the information via email – and a host of other changes to state law, including the ability for police to have some leeway in seeking detention orders from a judge.
Republican senators have their own juvenile justice agenda that would put more teens in adult court, “because that’s where the services are,” said Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford.
Democrats say there are more than 50 charges that automatically send juveniles ages 15 to 17 to adult court and several more charges that give prosecutors discretion in trying teens as adults. As of Dec. 8, 104 juvenile cases were automatically transferred to adult court this year based on the seriousness of the charges. Two more were transferred to adult court at the discretion of prosecutors, according to data supplied by the Judicial branch.
The reality is that since so few people are arrested for car thefts, even if the number of cases solved rose to 15%, it would hardly make a dent in reducing the number of crimes, Barone said.
“Tell me, how then will you arrest your way out of this problem?” Barone said.