CSAO: Committee on Children - February 27, 2018




February 27, 2018

The Division of Criminal Justice strongly supports S.B. No. 187, An Act Concerning the Transfer of a Child Charged with Certain Offenses to the Criminal Docket and the Grounds for Detention of an Arrested Child," and respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT for this legislation. This legislation represents critically needed "fine-tuning" of the "Raise the Age" initiatives enacted in recent years to give the courts greater latitude to better protect the public and public safety and the children themselves who commit serious criminal offenses.

The bill authorizes the transfer of serious Class B felony offenses committed by a juvenile to the adult court where judges can deal with those cases in a manner consistent with the severity of the conduct. Among the crimes that would automatically be transferred to the adult docket under this bill (crimes which are not currently transferred unless the court finds that transfer is in the best interests of the child) are such serious and violent crimes as Manslaughter in the First Degree, Robbery in the First Degree involving a weapon or resulting in a serious injury and Burglary involving use of a weapon or resulting in serious injury. Finally, the bill restores some of the previous criteria giving the court greater discretion to place a juvenile in detention, again not only to protect the public safety but also the safety of the juvenile himself or herself.

S.B. No. 187 recognizes that certain crimes are so egregious that transfer to the adult docket is appropriate at age 14. This was, in fact, the law in Connecticut for decades until recently, and it remains the law in most jurisdictions. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the United States Department of Justice, in 14 states the minimum age for transfer is 14 years old; in 5 states, it is 13 years old; in 3 states, 12 years old; and in two states a 10-year-old can be transferred to the adult court for the most serious crimes. In 2015, twenty-five states and the District of Columbia had at least one provision for transferring juveniles for which no minimum age was required. Connecticut is one of only two states where the minimum age for transfer stands at 15. We would call your attention a recent news article concerning the friends of a woman in New Britain who was so severely beaten by three juveniles – two under age 15 – that she suffered life-changing injuries, including the loss of an eye. Friends of the victim relayed to the news media how they were dismayed to learn that neither youth served any period of incarceration for this vicious and unprovoked crime. As reported in the media, the victim, a food delivery person, was lured by one juvenile and then savagely beaten by the others. It was not a crime of opportunity undertaken on the spur of the moment and certainly not a childish prank gone bad. It also must be reiterated that Connecticut is one of only two states where the minimum age for transfer in cases where it is appropriate is set at 15.

S.B. No. 187 also provides additional circumstances under which it can be deemed appropriate to place a juvenile in detention. These include a "strong probability" juveniles will commit or attempt to commit crimes injurious to themselves and probable cause to believe that allowing the juveniles to be sent home poses a threat to the juveniles themselves. In addition, detention would be allowed if the court finds that a juvenile has violated one or more of the court imposed conditions of release from detention. This last point is significant because it puts some force behind the court’s efforts to address the juvenile’s conduct and needs and establishes consequences for failure to comply with the court’s directives. Again, to reiterate, the issue is the protection of both the public and public safety and the juvenile himself or herself. Much of the debate concerning "Raise the Age" has focused on the question of brain development and the inability of young people to make the right or best decision in every circumstance. Thus, if a young person is not capable of making these decisions, it logically follows that someone – in these cases, the court – should stand in and take the action best for the juvenile and society as a whole. In many cases, the juvenile detention centers are the only existing and available facilities that can provide protection for the public and the child – many times from himself or herself and their own dangerous conduct – and the assessment of the child’s needs.

Only a very small percentage of juveniles would be transferred to the adult docket under this bill and some of those could be returned to juvenile court. Thanks to legislation passed by this body only a few years ago, any court sentencing one of these individuals would be required to consider the hallmark features of adolescence and scientific and psychological evidence of the difference in brain development between the child and an adult. If these individuals were convicted as adults, they would not be housed with general prison population but, rather, would be housed at the Manson Youth Institution, a facility housing inmates under the age of 21, where programs and services tailored to their age and needs are already in place. Again, only youths who committed the most serious offenses would be eligible for treatment as adults.

Recent incidents have demonstrated a clear and convincing need for the reforms envisioned in S.B. No. 187. These incidents underscore the grave danger presented to the general public and public safety by actions of a very small number of young people who are engaging in very dangerous activity and committing very serious crimes. There have been an alarming number of incidents where young people are stealing motor vehicles and then engaging the police in reckless pursuit resulting in serious injury or even death to the young offenders themselves and to innocent bystanders. In many instances, the police are unable to even place these offenders in detention to prevent them from going out again and stealing another vehicle and doing the same thing all over again.

This bill by no means represents an attempt to turn back the clock and undo all of the positive steps taken since the "Raise the Age" initiative began in Connecticut. Rather, it represents a reasoned and thought-out approach to address very valid concerns that have arisen since the laws governing juvenile transfer and detention were changed. As with any change of the scope of "Raise the Age," there will be real problems and real concerns that arise and that must be addressed. S.B. No. 187 represents the "fine-tuning" that is necessary if the "Raise the Age" initiative is to be truly successful and to serve the interests of the public, public safety and the young people involved.

In conclusion, the Division respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT for S.B. No. 187. We thank the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide input on this matter and would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.

Content Last Modified on 2/27/2018 12:05:39 PM