HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Residents across Connecticut have been on edge despite claims that the number of car break-ins, car thefts, and burglaries by teens of crime is down. Lawmakers now have a Juvenile Crime Reform bill ready for a vote, but HB 5417 is stalled.
After months of behind-the-scenes talks, lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee have agreed to a bill with bipartisan support that aims to help troubled teens and crackdown on bad, sometimes dangerous behavior.
But there is a snag.
State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, the Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee, said reforms have been evolving for years.
“It has made us safer as a state that we are smart on crime as opposed to just tough on crime.”
But Republican Craig Fishbein, a ranking member of the committee, said the bill is stalled because of budget negotiations.
“No, I’m not happy,” Fishbein said. “It should get voted on in the House, voted on in the Senate, and have the governor sign it. “
Here is what’s in the bill. If a teen is arrested, they must go before a judge within five days. GPS monitoring bracelets can be ordered by a judge for repeat offenders.
Sentencing guidelines are increased to five years in prison for serious sexual assault. The bill expands existing law to include other “serious offenses” like murder and firearm crimes.
There is an expansion of Diversionary Programs and teens can be locked up for an eight-hour maximum while they await a ruling on a detention order.
There are new, stricter penalties for motor vehicle thefts and carjackings. A car’s worth would not matter.
“If you are someone living in my district in Bridgeport who’s driving a 15-year-old Camry and needs that to get to work, that car is just as valuable to you, if not more so, than someone who has three or four cars in the suburbs worth more,” Stafstrom said.
The proposed law would increase sentencing guidelines for first and second stolen motor vehicle arrests. There would also be a crackdown on repeat offenders, whether juvenile or adult, especially for carjacking.
Fishbein was asked, “Do you think it will do enough to curb fears out there in the community?” He answered: “Probably not. Because some of the provisions go in place in the future and it’s an issue presently.”
Prosecutors and police can ask for teens to be in detention. A judge must determine that, in which case the teen goes to court the next day. If the judge declines the order, he or she must say why in writing within 48 hours of a decision.
There is more access to case records.
“One of the more important aspects of this bill is the ability of a police officer to see the records of a juvenile going back 90 days in the field,” Fishbein said. “Because certainly, an officer doesn’t always know when they stop a car or arrest a youth whether they should seek a detention order.”
Finally, there is more money, including $1 million for a car theft task force and $2 million for juvenile justice outreach and alternative programs.
“It allows for a kid to get into a program quicker than under the current system, where hopefully they learn,” bein said.
This bill is currently being held up because of budget talks with the governor and Democrats.
“Obviously, there are dollar figures involved here and are subject to final budget negotiations,” Stafstrom said. “Once that is done, I think this bill will receive bipartisan support.”
Lawmakers are also looking at “impact panels” so kids will hear from the victims they stole from. All agree that makes a difference in teaching teens how their actions affect others.