Panel: Review severity of juvenile sentencing
HARTFORD -- State criminal justice officials want to develop plans for reducing the prison sentences of violent juveniles who have shown remorse and rehabilitation, before anticipated rulings from federal and state courts order them to do so.
With two major U.S. Supreme Court decisions on juvenile justice anticipated in late June, members of the state's Sentencing Commission asked the Judiciary Committee on Friday for an extension of its term.
David M. Borden, former associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, said the commission has not been able to come to agreement on a program to cut the sentences of teens who have been model inmates, but given more time, it will.
He said that mounting scientific evidence shows that teenagers have a hard time holding impulsive behavior until they are about 25, and thus the criminal justice system should treat them differently.
"Connecticut law lacks an appropriate method for employing a second look at these juvenile offenders," Borden said. "We want the General Assembly to refer the matter back to us for further study. Given more time we can narrow the issues further."
As of late September, there were 191 inmates in state prisons facing sentences in excess of 10 years for crimes committed when they were younger than 18; half of them are ineligible for parole for 20 years or more.
Twenty-one of the youths are serving 25-year-plus terms for violent crimes committed when they were 14 or 15. Thirty-two are facing 50-year-plus sentences for crimes committed while they were younger than 18.
In the program under discussion among members of the commission, the Board of Pardons and Parole would review applicants for sentence reduction and gauge their remorse, atonement and maturity. Legal counsel would be provided to the convicted juveniles to prepare for their parole hearings, and victims would be notified.
"One of the few important factors that help a child more to get to a resilient place from an unresilient place is to have a relationship with one individual," she said. "Just one relationship seems to provide a protective sheathing."
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that young teens cannot be giving the death penalty for murder and cannot be given life sentences for charges that don't involve murder.
Michael P. Lawlor, former Judiciary Committee chairman who now is an undersecretary in the governor's budget office, said that state officials are anticipating a federal lawsuit on the way Connecticut treats juveniles found guilty of violent crimes.
"It's an area appropriate for the Sentencing Commission to look at," said Rep. Gerald Fox III, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has until April 2 to act.
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready Tuesday to say anew that young people who commit even the most brutal crimes should not be punished as harshly as adults, taking up a pair of cases in which 14-year-olds convicted of murder are serving life sentences with no chance of parole.
The latest in a line of cases asks whether young teenagers facing the rest of their lives in prison deserve the possibility of a second chance. Nationally, roughly 2,300 people are behind bars for life with no chance of winning their freedom for crimes they committed before their 18th birthday. Seventy-nine of them are in prison for crimes that took place when they were 14 or younger.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.