HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — As a result of public pressure – and a series of high profile crimes involving teens – new changes to the state’s Juvenile Justice system are in place Wednesday.
State Rep. Craig Fischbein, the ranking member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, says something more has to be done. “Certainly the rallying cry to do something is definitely escalating.”
A recent string of carjackings at gunpoint has rattled neighbors in greater Hartford. Bob Scotti of Rocky Hill tells News 8 “It’s just kind of scary, you know, broad daylight.”
Mayor Lisa Marotta of Rocky Hill says the recent carjacking victims are suffering. “They were terrified and they’re angry.”
Chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, State Representative Steve Stafstrom explained, “Unfortunately, it’s part of a national trend. It’s not a problem unique to Connecticut.”
Beginning Wednesday, the state judicial branch has a new protocol. In a memo obtained by News 8, the new protocol says police will now have access to a juvenile’s entire arrest record – including adult convictions.
State Rep. Stafstrom says, “We’re hoping we’re starting to turn a corner with some of the reforms that have been made.”
Prior to this change, law enforcement didn’t have the information after hours.
All admit these are critical details needed when asking a judge to put a kid in detention rather than release them to a parent. Commonly known as “catch and release.”
A new form also streamlines the process. Judicial officials estimate the turnaround time from the juvenile probation officer to the arresting officer to be one hour.
Sen. Kissel, who serves as ranking senator on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee says, “Strengthening Connecticut’s justice system cannot simply be a window-dressing exercise. The solutions must be substantive and comprehensive, and this is a great start in the right direction.”
Some lawmakers want more accountability.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, who was one of the Republican lawmakers present in negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders says, “In the time it has taken the judiciary to implement this change, a woman was ripped out of her car in Rocky Hill at gunpoint and her entire life has been changed. We don’t have the time to keep nibbling away at the edges of this issue, lives are increasingly on the line.”
Republican House members are calling for statutory changes like overnight arraignments, mandatory fingerprinting, and GPS monitoring.
Opponents say keeping track of teens could cost a million dollars.
“I think $1-million is worth it to make sure that our victims and citizens are safe,” countered Representative Fishbein.
A special session petition has gone unanswered. News 8 has learned that could change in the coming weeks.
But there is still a disconnect as to what current laws allow and which police departments have certain policies.
“If a youth is arrested for a felony one involving a death to another individual or involving a firearm there has been mandatory fingerprinting,” replied Fishbein.
But Rep. Stafstrom insists the mechanism exists: “Some have asked for fingerprinting of juveniles that are already available under the existing statutes.”
Meantime, on Oct. 1 the judicial branch must collect data on whether judges are approving detention orders, and if not – why not?
Another new change: there is a new judge in charge of all juvenile matters in the state. Judge Dawne Westbrook was appointed as part of the normal rotation.