The legislature’s Children’s Committee is considering a bill that would make it easier for judges to transfer juvenile cases to adult court when the defendants are 15 or older.
The bill would allow judges to transfer cases if they determine it is in the best interest of public safety. Currently, judges can only transfer cases if they also believe it is in the best interest of the juvenile.
The change was one of four sections of a bill aimed at undoing some changes to the court system since Connecticut’s Raise the Age initiative began more than a decade ago to keep teens from the adult court system.
State Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, a co-sponsor and Children’s Committee co-chairman, said the bill addresses concerns from prosecutors and law enforcement. He considers the relaxation on transfers to be “the most important thing.”
“I think there should be a bias towards trying to keep (juveniles) out of the adult system, but it shouldn’t be a rigid, inflexible test that ties up judges and doesn’t allow them to act in the best interest of the community,” he said.
The bill is drawing opposition from proponents of Connecticut’s shift toward higher standards for transfers.
State Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said the adult court system is “technically not set up for” juveniles. She said prisons allow for less contact with family members than juvenile detention centers, for example, while the juvenile justice system also provides greater access to counseling.
“There are just ways that you treat a child that are just different than the way you treat an adult,” she said.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said the changes are needed because expansions of the juvenile justice system prevent law enforcement and prosecutors from keeping the public safe in some cases.
In 2007, Connecticut raised the minimum age of adult court to 18 and made it more difficult to transfer juvenile cases.
“A lot of these changes have been very good,” Kane said. “The problem is they’ve been a little bit too restrictive, particularly right now.”
ACLU of Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire said the changes have improved Connecticut’s justice system, pointing to a drop in Connecticut’s crime rate — the 2016 crime rate was the lowest since 1969.
Along with access to counseling, McGuire said the juvenile court system allows teens to recover from mistakes by keeping their criminal records shielded from the public.
“What we’ve been doing is working really well,” McGuire said. “There’s evidence...that show that the reforms that have been passed in the last five or six years are, in fact, working.”
Suzio said some lawmakers shared McGuire’s concerns, prompting him to narrow the change presented in the bill.
For more from Kane and McGuire, hear them on the Morning Record, the Record-Journal’s daily morning podcast, at http://bit.ly/2pft3Cy