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03/01/2017

Gov. Malloy Introduces Legislation to Prevent the State’s Adult Prisons from Becoming Crime Schools for the Young

Legislative Proposal Focuses on Providing Young Adults within the Justice System with the Tools Needed to Lead Successful, Productive Lives

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he has submitted a legislative proposal to the Connecticut General Assembly with the goal of further reducing the state’s decreasing crime rate by making a systemic distinction – when appropriate – in how young adults within the justice system are treated in order to provide them with the support services they need to succeed in life instead of being mixed into the adult offender population, which too often can be the first step on a path toward a life of crime.

Targeting offenders between the ages of 18 to 21, the Governor’s proposal takes a proactive approach to prevent youths from becoming career criminals as adults. It was introduced in light of recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court and incorporates suggestions submitted by prosecutors, judges, public defenders, advocates, and others during the 2016 session of the legislature. It also contains elements of a recent report written by Lael Chester and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard Kennedy School that was submitted to the legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee and provides recommendations for juvenile justice reform.

“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,” Governor Malloy said. “Our prisons cannot serve as crime schools. We cannot take a one-size-fits-all attitude to corrections in which we treat a low-risk young adult the same way we treat a career criminal and expect to reduce crime at the same time. Crime is down in Connecticut to a fifty-year low, dropping faster here than in almost any other state, and it is because we are taking smart approaches to make Connecticut safer. Through strategies like these, which have been endorsed by Republicans and Democrats in a number of states – both red and blue – across our country, we can stop the cycle of crime.”

The proposal creates a new category called “young adults” for individuals between the ages of 18 to 20. When appropriate, youths who fall between these ages will be treated using procedural rules common in the state’s juvenile justice system. In most cases, they would be managed under current youthful offender statutes and benefit from the protections and services provided. Judges would have the authority to use conventional adult court procedures and penalties for serious and violent crimes.

Under this youthful offender status, the accused will:

  • Remain a “youthful offender” unless and until the accused chooses not to avail themselves of this option or until a court makes a determination denying use of youthful offender status on a case-by-case basis;
  • Not have his or her name released publicly unless and until court determines that the case should be handled under traditional adult court rules;
  • Have the option to plead guilty to the charge of being a “youthful offender” instead of to the original charge;
  • Have a limited period of incarceration of no more than four years;
  • Have police and court records automatically erased, provided that the offender completes his or her sentence and does not reoffend four years after sentencing as a youthful offender; and
  • Have court proceedings that are open to the public, while arrest records and other records relating to the proceeding remain confidential.

Youthful offender status does not apply to the most serious crimes, including Class A felonies and other crimes spelled out in statute. Motor vehicle crimes will also remain in adult court. The Governor’s proposal also incorporates suggestions from advocates to ensure that appropriate protections remain in place for victims, regardless of whether a case is brought in juvenile or adult court.

The “young adults” category will 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 (DOC) 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.

The Governor’s legislation is House Bill 7045, An Act Concerning Juvenile Justice and Young Adults. It has been referred to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, where it is currently pending for consideration by lawmakers.

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