Incarcerated people serving prison sentences on crimes committed before they were 21 years old would be guaranteed access to parole under a bill passed Tuesday by the state Senate.
The bill, which will now head to the House following the Senate’s 23-13 vote, recognizes scientific evidence that the brains of young people continue developing through their twenties.
State law currently bars courts from sentencing people to life without parole for crimes committed up until their 18th birthday. The legislation had initially been written to expand the state’s eligibility threshold to 25, but lawmakers lowered it to 21 through an amendment on the floor.
“Our young people are still not fully developed until 25,” Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said. “Having heard the objections of the other side and wanting to make progress, came to a decision that those would be taken into account to a degree. Stopping at 21 was the decision that was made.”
Winfield, who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the bill would impact offenders convicted of many serious crimes including murder.
Current law allows most offenders to become eligible for parole when they have served a certain number of years or percentages of their sentences, which changes based on the length of the sentence. However, neither state law nor the bill guarantees their parole application will be approved.
The legislation was opposed by the chamber’s Republican members as well as Democratic Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury.
During the debate, opponents argued the bill should be narrowed to exempt people who had been found guilty of certain types of homicide like murder with special circumstances or the murder of a police officer.
“When you’re 20 or 19 and you commit that type of a murder, or that type of crime, I still feel that you should be held accountable and the judge’s ruling should be solid and should be upheld,” Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said.
An amendment narrowing the bill failed on party lines.
Senate President Martin Looney said the legislation was intended to extend an opportunity to offenders who committed crimes when they were young, not ensure that they are released.
“It does not guarantee anyone a release, it guarantees an opportunity to demonstrate that the way that they are living their lives as incarcerated prisoners has been an indication of a transformation that they have attained during those years,” Looney said.