HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A 2018 federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act lawmakers passed says juveniles can not be held in custody for more than six hours. State Lawmakers say that ties the hands of judges who oversee juvenile justice cases.
Recent increases in teens stealing cars and violently crashing across Connecticut, in one case killing a runner, have shined a light on gaps in the system.
Republican House Minority Leader Vin Candelora said they are trying to avoid more carnage.
“Our fear is the next time a teenager is shooting at a resident from their home, shots are going to be fired back,” Candelora said.
At a Capitol press conference, Wednesday, police chiefs from New Britain and Wolcott publicly criticized the state for weakening the juvenile justice system.
“Not holding teens accountable for these actions made them re-offend, has turned them into career criminals. I don’t know what we’re gonna do when they’re 18,” said New Britain Police Chief Chris Chute.
Last week in New Britain, police said a teen driving a stolen car struck and killed a beloved marathon runner.
The chief says one repeat offender was arrested 40 times in the last five years. From age 12 to 17 the juvenile has been arrested for armed incidents involving stealing cars and assaulting officers.
“The juvenile justice system has failed these offenders. The current system did not set a path for these offenders to rehabilitate and become productive law-abiding adults,” added Chief Chute.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart (R) put it like this: “We’re not talking about stealing things from a corner store; we’re talking about violent sexual assault, we’re talking about violent rape and these 16 and 17-year-olds are still out and we’re letting them back home to their parents.”
Holding signs that reading “Not One More Death” and wearing sashes, a dozen Glastonbury residents demand change from lawmakers.
After a string of recent violent incidents in their town including a car crash with a stolen vehicle on Route 17. Authorities say five teens were inside the car and survived the crash only to run off into the woods and carjack a ride-share driver.
State Representative Jill Barry, a Democrat from Glastonbury, said this is not a Republican versus Democratic issue. “They [the judicial system] should be able to detain in the interest of public safety not just the interest of the child.”
A petition to force a special session aimed at strengthening laws was signed by those at the press conference.
A decade of diverting teens from the criminal justice system they say hasn’t worked. And judges’ hands are tied by that federal law.
State Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, said, “We’re not just gonna want window dressing. We’re gonna want substantive changes.”
A closed-door bipartisan leaders meeting did find common ground. Lawmakers are looking at allowing repeat offenders to be legally held for more than six hours. And having probation officers available 24/7 to get detailed information to a judge when considering a “detention order.”
“Right now, if a juvenile is arrested at midnight in a town, the judge is then asked ‘should this individual be detained?’ That judge does not have access to the prior arrest record,” explained House Speaker Matt Ritter.
Senator Kissel said that working around the federal law and having a probation person on 24/7 would help judges with accessing information.
“Can call up and say ‘give me the background information on this individual. Boom, within 15 minutes or a half hour the information is there now the judge can make an informed decision,” Kissel said.
Also on the list: potentially giving parents the option to request an ankle monitor if the teen is sent home prior to their court date.
“There needs to be a focus on the front end to help these individuals and their families to deal with situations that have really skyrocketed out of control,” added Speaker Ritter.
One law was passed this year. The judicial branch has to start collecting data on whether detention orders are granted or denied. Lawmakers will meet again on juvenile reforms next week. They left the door open for a special session.