REPORT ON BILLS FAVORABLY REPORTED BY COMMITTEE

COMMITTEE:

Judiciary Committee

File No.:

Bill No.:

HB-5782

PH Date:

3/13/2006

Action/Date:

JFS C/R 03/27/06

Reference Change:

Appropriations

TITLE OF BILL:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE AGE OF A CHILD FOR PURPOSES OF JURISDICTION IN DELINQUENCY MATTERS AND PROCEEDINGS.

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Rep. Walker, 93rd District

 

REASONS FOR BILL:

The adult criminal justice system is not the appropriate place to manage young offenders. There are no programs in the adult system designed to address the needs of adolescents in an age appropriate manner. Programs and services that exist in the juvenile justice system are off-limits for youth prosecuted and convicted in the adult system, even if these youth are treated as youthful offenders. Despite the best efforts of advocates, state agencies and this legislature, we have not been able to figure out how to help these 16- and 17-year-olds through a modification of the adult criminal system.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Christine Rapillo, Director of Juvenile Delinquency Defense, Office of the Chief Public Defender – Raising the age will not impact public safety. Our laws already mandate that all offenders age 14 and over be prosecuted in adult court for Class A & B felonies – the most serious offenses. General Statute 40 60 127 also allows for the transfer of any other felony case at the complete discretion of the prosecutor. Dangerous and serious offenders will continue to be treated as adults, and be held accountable.

Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of 16- and 17-year-olds are not serious and dangerous offenders. FBI statistics for Connecticut through 2002 show that 76% of offenses committed by 16- and 17-year-olds were not violent crimes.

While the changes in last year's session of the youthful offender bill made steps to include more people in the confidentiality protection of the youthful offender, it does nothing to address the services gap. We need to finally close this gap. Treating 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles will be the most efficient way to do this. Our juvenile courts have access to residential programs across the state and nation that will take children up to age 18. Our 16- and 17-year-olds are not able to participate in these programs, even if they are age appropriate, because federal law prohibits the mixing of offenders who are classified as juveniles with offenders who are classified as adults.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) already provides treatment services to 16- and 17-year-olds through the Child Protection System. If we are to try to treat these youths as adults, we would need to create a whole new treatment system with separate programs and separate facilities. Juvenile courts currently have access and a familiarity with the child protection system, and can more easily address the issues that cause offending in young people, such as abuse, neglect, homelessness and educational failure.

Adopting this proposal makes sense and it's the right thing to do. We are one of only 3 states which sets the age at 16. Even the United State Supreme Court, in its recent decision Roper v. Simmons, recognized that 16- and 17-year-olds have developmental differences that in some situations make them less legally culpable than adult offenders.

While it is encouraging that the brain science is being legally recognized, it simply reflects what our common sense has always told us. Our civil laws already acknowledge that 16- and 17-year-olds cannot make decisions as well as adults, in that it does not allow these youngsters to vote, marry, enter contracts, or buy liquor or cigarettes.

Our 16- and 17-year-olds are a population that we have spent almost no money trying to service. It's always a resource issue. We're hopeful that some of these youths can be diverted by means of non-judicial handling, in the same way juveniles are diverted. Part of the hope is that although the numbers look very large, not all of the 16- and 17-year-olds are going to need the same level of services they get in adult court, where there's really only one level offered. A lot of these issues for juveniles can be addressed on a more local level.

Judge William J. Lavery, Chief Court Administrator, Judicial Branch – It is critical to build a foundation of services before changing the jurisdictional age. The General Assembly last year expanded the Youthful Offender Program, but there was no funding put into place to provide services for this needy population, especially in the area of mental health services. There is an acute need for these services and for residential placements. Regardless of whether the jurisdictional age of juvenile court is raised, funding should be provided for services to 16-and 17-year-olds who are currently in our system as youthful offenders.

We need help from the Department of Education because children over 16 don't have to go to school. We need a place where we can send them for some rehabilitation as well as vocational education. The 16- and 17-year-old mental health system in this state doesn't exist. We have to create one.

We estimate that bringing 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile courts could double the number of children who go through the delinquency side of the court. We must carefully plan for the expansion of the jurisdictional age of juvenile court. I urge you to read the report of the Juvenile Justice Implementation Team that was released in February of 2004. Passage of this bill without considering the findings of this report could lead to results that are contrary to the best interests of children in the State of Connecticut.

William Carbone, Executive Director, Court Support Services Division, Judicial Branch - The ratio of probation officers to children is substantially lower in the juvenile system than in the adult system, in terms of 16- and 17-year-olds. It's around 45 to 50 per officer. With some new hiring that we will do that ratio will drop a little bit. The national standard is somewhere in the 30 to 35 ratio of probationers to juveniles. We would need 25 additional Probation Officers in order to take the 16- and 17-year-olds in adult probation and put them on a caseload of no more than 50 per officer. We have a sort of pilot of this in Hartford that we started about a year ago, with officers having no more than 50 cases for that group, and it's worked out quite well. Fifty is not a low number, but it's far lower than the current average of 125 to 130.

The proposal that Judge Lavery sent in had an annualized budget of about $9.7 million. This would be implemented on a partial basis. I believe the cost would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.7 million for next year.

Jeanne Milstein, Child Advocate – Supports this bill. Over the last five years, extensive research has shown that adolescents cannot reason as well as adults. The frontal lobe (the part of the brain that controls impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, and foresight of consequences), is not fully developed until an individual is in his or her early 20's. During adolescence, this part of the brain undergoes far more changes than at any other stage of life. Research demonstrates something we have known for centuries, the period of adolescence is a formative time.

It is also important because it suggests that the way we respond to adolescents who engage in unwanted and illegal behavior may have a significant impact on the kind of adult he or she will become. Currently, Connecticut, along with only two other states, automatically treats young people, ages 16 and 17, as adults. In the adult system, we do not offer them age-appropriate rehabilitative services or treatments. Boys who are incarcerated go to the Manson Youth Institute, an adult jail setting, and girls go to York, an adult prison setting. What is the impact of such settings on the adolescent and how will that affect the developing brain on the emerging adult?

Youth who are tried and incarcerated in the adult system are more likely to re-offend, and when they do re-offend, commit more serious crimes more frequently than young people tried and treated in the juvenile system for the same crimes. Youths should complete their development in an environment intended to address their deficits and enrich their lives, not in the adult criminal justice environment. The latter is a system operated through the use of control, dominance and power.

Elizabeth C. Brown, Commission on Children - I had the honor to serve on the Juvenile Justice Task Force two years ago. Overarching discussion centered on funding. Calculations were based on the question, what would it take to duplicate the current juvenile system to deal with 16- and 17-year-olds? The figure, including almost $50 million for new facilities, reached a high of $80 million dollars to accomplish this transition. Given the small numbers of youths in this age group (in 1997, there were 977 young people under age 19 in prison and in 2005, 728 individuals, showing a decline of 25%), this price tag seems way out of line. Putting such a high price tag on this issue has been a major stumbling block towards winning the passage of this needed reform.

The report, Reform of DCF Juvenile Services: Helping Children and Families Close to Home, presents a different cost model. It moves away from costly incarceration and residential treatment, to more prevention and early intervention community-based services.

Juvenile justice policy must be outcome driven. There must be accountability for not only reducing the number of youth in the system, but also showing positive youth development in areas such as academic achievement, social and emotional issues, and the acquisition of job skills leading towards meaningful employment. Reform of the system must be developed with a deep understanding of the profile of the youth currently involved in the juvenile justice system:

- 47% of the youth in the Connecticut Juvenile Training School require special

education, especially in the area of reading.

-Nearly 30,000 high school students were expelled or suspended, with more than 2/3

for reasons of fighting or intimidation.

-Schools have referred more than 3,000 students to juvenile court for truancy or

defiance of school rules in academic year 2003-2004.

-There were 3 suicides by children in the care of the Department of Children and

Families during the summer of 2004, and 2 suicides at Manson Youth Institution

between 2004 and 2005.

-Within the juvenile justice system, more than 40% had histories of alcohol or drug

abuse.

-Most recent data available for 2001 showed more than 20,000 cases of family

violence reported to the police.

-Children living in poverty are at higher risk for having health, mental health, and

learning difficulties which go unattended and therefore cause long-term health

problems.

-Studies in 1995, 2001 and most recently, 2003 show an ongoing, systemic problem

of minority youth in the juvenile system.

Frank Sykes, Legal Analyst, African-American Affairs Commission – The overrepresentation of minority juveniles is apparent at many levels, including arrest, detention, and prosecution, and may intensify as juveniles continue through the system. Studies highlight a multitude of reasons for disproportionate minority confinement. The need for additional quality mental health services has often been identified as a major cause. Many juvenile offenders are unfairly stigmatized for having been embroiled in the criminal justice system, but we must understand that many of these youth never received the appropriate supervision or support in the first place. Opportunities to divert juvenile offenders to individuals and organizations, which can better serve their behavioral problems in a community setting, are often limited or are simply unavailable, especially in urban communities. Extensive research supports that community-based programs offering a continuum of health services, have been proven successful and more cost-effective in correcting juvenile behavioral problems, as well as in preserving public safety. Over 60% of state police departments interviewed in a study indicated that alternatives for first time juvenile offenders would be used more often if available.

There is also international consensus that 18 is the appropriate cut off age for a child. Culturally competent programs and services, if implemented effectively, should serve as diversionary options for juveniles in lieu of incarceration in adult facilities.

Chief State's Attorney, Chris Morano, Division of Criminal Justice – This bill is totally inconsistent with the enactment of last year's Public Act 05-232, which made major changes in the laws governing the youthful offender or youthful offender proceedings. Our plea today is to fine-tune the major bill you passed last year, then give the legislation a chance to work. It has only been six weeks since the effective enactment date of Public Act 05-232. We should not yet be scrapping all the work done and moving on to something new. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the public act is not working as intended. The statistics show otherwise. An overwhelming majority of youthful offender cases are not going to the adult docket. They are remaining in the youthful offender docket.

Statistics that we have obtained from the Judicial Branch from January 1, 2006 through February 28, 2006, show there are a total of 1,719 cases that received youthful offender status. 211 of these cases were transferred to the adult docket. 1,440 of them stayed under their youthful offender status. We would ask that you not seek to change the law, and let it work a little bit more. The number of bills before this Legislature on the youthful offender bill show there are needs for tweaking it to make it work better.

By increasing the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts, we are putting an incredible burden upon them. Already the juvenile justice system is overwhelmed and completely under funded. We would not be taking care of this additional population and with all due respect, I don't know we're taking care of them well enough right now.

I think that what we already have, in essence is, an unofficial juvenile court within the adult system through the youthful offender bill that was worked on so hard last session. The one problem is that there are limited programs available to those receiving youthful offender statuses. That's where I think we should go. To try and go all the way over, as has been suggested, would be disastrous for the people, for the public safety of the state, for the juveniles that would be part of the court, and for the system in general. It could happen at some point, I'm always open to discussion. Now is neither the time nor the place for this change.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Anne-Marie DeGraffenreidt, Attorney and Project Director of TeamChild, Center for Children's Advocacy – Because of the population that I serve and work with, I end up appearing in the adult criminal court on occasion and deal with youthful offenders. Most court referrals result from fairly normal adolescent behavior.

In a delinquency prosecution, a young offender is assigned a probation officer the day he or she comes to court for arraignment. Judges assigned to Juvenile Matters regularly issue orders to defendants concerning their behavior during the pretrial phase. The probation officer is available to supervise and provide services upon the order of the court. Children also receive mental health screenings and can be provided with evaluations and referrals for services before being sentenced.

The adult criminal system is not designed to address the issues that often cause 16- and 17-year-olds to become involved in the criminal process, such as domestic violence issues, homelessness, educational failures, or abuse and neglect. These are issues that are addressed every day in Superior Court Juvenile Matters. Adolescents charged with committing delinquent acts have easier access to age-appropriate programming offered by DCF and the Court Support Services Division of the Judicial Branch. 16- and 17-year-olds who remain in the juvenile system will be subject to significantly higher supervision and oversight than the adult system currently provides.

The Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act prohibits mixing adolescents in the adult criminal system with those in the juvenile justice system. DCF has been working on plans to help these young people, but has been hindered because they are classified as adults. It is a more efficient use of state resources to include these young people, who are considered children in every other legal sense, with their peers in the juvenile justice system. Jurisdiction for the prosecution of 16- and 17-year-olds should start in Superior Court Juvenile Matters.

Diana Gonzalez, Parent of 17-year-old David Burgos, who committed suicide while incarcerated at Manson Youth Institute – We are never going to get a good outcome when teenagers are put together with adults. Teenagers and adults are different from each other. It's like mixing goats and sheep in the same pasture. It doesn't work. What's frustrating to me is that we have known it does not work for a long time. What is it going to take for us to make the change? Why do we have to wait until there's a crisis? It's time for us to stop talking about making a change. This isn't about the money. It's about doing the right thing. We spend the money now; we are just spending it in the wrong way. The system now does not work. You can't make an adult cell appropriate for a youth.

There's a mix-up of priorities. It is more important to save money than to save children. What I'm hearing now is that our youth are not worth us tackling a problem that might be hard and cost some money. What I'm hearing is that my son was not worth it.

The question I want to ask you is: Whose child is next? It could be your child. How would you want your child treated?

Erica Bromley, Director of Manchester Youth Services Association, Co-chairperson of the Advocacy Committee, Connecticut Youth Services Association (CYSA) - Providing age-appropriate mental health, substance abuse, educational, job-skill, and positive youth development programs for 16- and 17-year-olds are key components of rehabilitation. These services have been central to youth service bureau programming since its establishment close to 35 years ago. Many youth service bureaus addressed the abovementioned array of services through the use of Juvenile Review Boards. CYSA encourages the General Assembly to fully utilize the nearly 4 decades of experience that youth service bureaus have regarding juvenile justice issues.

Advocates for Connecticut's Children and Youth - An Implementation Team Report from 2004 tasked with identifying the costs raising the jurisdictional age to 18 greatly over-estimated the costs associated with this change and failed to take into account savings that would result from taking youth out of the adult system. Treating youth in the juvenile justice system should be viewed as an investment in our future. Research suggests that this change should yield significant long-term savings and benefits to society at large by reducing the number of youth who commit crimes subsequent to their first conviction. Youth processed in the adult system are more likely to re-offend, re-offend more quickly, and re-offend at higher rates than are youth treated in the juvenile justice system. The Implementation Team Report does not consider proposals like the replacement of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) with more cost-effective Training, Rehabilitation, and Education Centers (TRECs). These programs could easily decrease the cost of treatment per youth. Downsizing large, centralized facilities is likely to produce substantial immediate and long-term savings in the form of lower construction costs, lower operation costs and reduced recidivism. Medicaid reimbursement, which is not available when children are in secure correctional facilities, should be available for all eligible children under 18 in community-based care.

A Connecticut youth who is 16- or 17-years-old cannot enter a casino, purchase alcohol, must be furnished with a free public education by his or her local regional board of education, and cannot get a marriage license without the written consent of a parent or guardian. These provisions express Connecticut's understanding that 16- and 17-year-olds are still developing and are not capable of handling adult responsibilities.

Other statutes recognize that youth continue to develop beyond 18. The state's foster care system continues to support its youthful wards until age 21, if they are enrolled in higher education. In the private sector, the vast majority of national car rental companies will not insure drivers under age 25.

In Connecticut, 16- and 17-year-olds are treated as responsible adults when they break the law, but are not allowed to serve on juries or vote for those who ultimately decide on what counts as a crime and how criminals should be punished.

In Roper v. Simmons, the Court also stated that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. Youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and psychological damage. The character of a juvenile is not as well-formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed. From a moral standpoint, it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed.

Juvenile justice systems are typically characterized by higher staff-to-juvenile ratios, staff focused on treatment and rehabilitation (leading to more positive contact with staff), and prioritized programming which facilitates development, encourages pro-social behavior as well as the development of social competencies. The adult penal system, in stark contrast, is characterized by the warehousing of inmates by staff focused largely on custody and security, idle time, violent role models, and a culture of exploitation, domination, victimization, and criminal socialization (facilitated by the lack of correctional staff contact with offenders).

The criminal record that follows a youth from the adult system significantly impairs his or her re-entry into society upon release, making it harder for that youth to get a job, and to eventually provide support to his/her own children.

Betsy Morgan, Director, Middlesex Coalition for Children – The Coalition is in strong support of this bill, along with several hundred residents of Middlesex County. This bill is a key issue for us in our broader agenda regarding juvenile justice reform. We also would like to see:

-The closing of CJTS.

-The development of small, gender-specific programs throughout the state, with

current staff being retrained.

-Racial equity sought to address disproportionate minority contact.

-The strengthening and improvement of juvenile diversion programs to keep children

out of the courts.

-A mandate that a child's confession be given in the presence of a parent or guardian.

-A restriction on the discretionary transfer of children to adult court.

-Credit provided towards a delinquency commitment for time spent prior to disposition

in a psychiatric hospital, detention center or secure facility, pursuant to a court order.

-Development of mediation programs in juvenile court for the resolution of school,

neighborhood or family issues.

-Development of a statewide plan to reduce and/or eliminate the use of seclusion and

restraints in public institutions or funded through public funds.

Christine O'Grady, Member, Middlesex Coalition for Children

Robert Francis, Co-Chair and Acting Executive Director, Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance – With no vision of what may be best for our young people, we built a medium security prison designed for adults and placed juveniles in it from the ages of 10 to 15. Over 75% of these juveniles had committed no serious offenses and were charged with a series of misdemeanors or needed to be incarcerated for their own safety.

We place juvenile justice services in the hands of DCF and in the Judicial Branch, with no plan regarding how juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse, child welfare services, detention, probation and parole would be integrated into one plan. Although much has been done recently to improve communications between the two departments, it is still not driven by an overall juvenile justice or youth development policy.

Mark Chudwick, Family Services Working to Strengthen our Communities (FSW) – For the past 13 years, FSW has operated a program under the auspices of the DCF to help young people in the juvenile justice system re-assimilate into the communities in which they live. Many of the young people supervised by our staff are in the 16- to 17-year-old age group that is currently under the jurisdiction of the adult prison system. These young people face enough challenges and obstacles in their lives without having to be exposed to the grim reality of the adult prison system. The current system does not help to turn the lives of these young people around. It is punitive and destructive in its nature, reinforcing negative attitudes and actions.

Nancy Gillis – My 18-year-old son, who has ADHD and bi-polar, was incarcerated for 2 months last year at the Manson Youth Facility. He was being held there to keep him safe. He had not been sentenced, nor convicted of a crime. He was pending charges. He was ordered by the judge to be held while the Bail Commissioner's Office searched for a drug rehabilitation and mental health program. It was to only take a few days to a week. It took 2 months because there were no state beds.

Everywhere we turned our hands were tied because he was considered an adult in the eyes of the law. He had rights but these rights hurt him enormously. He had the right to run away, abuse himself, put himself in high risk situations, refuse all offered treatment, and to live in an out of control manner. He exercised these rights regularly, not knowing the repercussions, because he didn't and couldn't even understand them.

My son was in serious trouble. The last and only place to turn was to the courts. The judge agreed that serious intervention was vital, and ordered the Bail Commissioner's Office to locate a bed for Sean. He was to be held there until placement. According to the judge, this would happen expeditiously. He was placed in the Manson Youth Facility in Chester Connecticut in protective custody.

The treatment my son received at Manson Youth facility was shocking. It was punishment-driven verses rehabilitative-oriented and extremely distressing to me since these prisoners were mostly young boys. My son was thrown into a cell for 23 hours a day. He was hysterical and scared. He cried non-stop for three days while having severe anxiety and panic attacks. He was left this way for days with severe emotional distress. He threatened suicide constantly. I repeatedly called the mental health team (doctor and counselors) with concerns about his state of mind and ability to cope at this point. I was given the explanation that this was jail, that he was adjusting, and that he was safe.

Incarcerating this population in this manner accomplishes nothing and only creates more unreachable, angry and mean kids. They are then dumped back into society only to fail again.

The control and decision-making regarding these children should be in the hands of parents, guardians, law enforcement officials, and all others who are in the position to support and help direct these children to lead productive, healthy and happy lives.

Erin Joudrey, Student, University of Connecticut School of Social Work

Joanne Davidson - Our 17-year-old daughter is incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, CT. She has been addicted to heroin for almost a year, and resorted to stealing in order to support her habit. Because we are not wealthy, we had no alternative but the prison system. She has not been convicted of anything, but is treated no differently than those who have been. We believe very strongly that 16- and 17-year-olds cannot receive the attention and care they need if they are incarcerated with adult prisoners. They are not able to fend for themselves, and it is not in their best interest to be housed in that environment. We have been trying to do what's best for our child. Parents need help; adolescents need help. Surely this wealthy state can come up with a better answer than incarceration in adult prison.

Joyce Bosco - I never pictured myself standing in front of you testifying on this issue. Not because I don't think it is important; I just never thought it would touch me personally. But now it has. My son recently got in some legal trouble. He received several misdemeanor charges. He never had any legal issues until after his 16th birthday.

The first issue I have with minors being sent to this facility is the total disconnect the Adult Department of Corrections has with the family of the child. I would hope that this would not occur in the Juvenile System. The family, if they are a support system for the child, should be working hand and hand with the system for the betterment of the child.

The other thing to consider is that everything is litigated today. There are many situations that youth get into today that would have in the past been chalked up to them sowing their wild oats, and would have been handled with a slap on the wrist. With the advent of the no-fault philosophy, youth can now be arrested for simply trying to defend themselves. This occurs far too often. How is this justice? It is almost difficult today for an urban youth to make it through to adulthood without some legal entanglements. This is another reason why these children need to belong back in the juvenile justice system. They need to get the help they need to not be repeat offenders.

The current youthful offender law seems to have many flaws. These laws order the courtroom cleared to protect the privacy and rights of youths, but then put them into the adult court system. The ridiculous nature of these laws was illustrated to me when I could not get my son's court date verified at one court, even when I identified myself as his mother.

Because of our concerns about our son, we choose not to bail him out. We asked the court to put him in a program to help him cope better with life and make better decisions. This was the hardest decision of our lives, but we felt it would be the most effective and quickest way to get our son the help he needed.

The community court was very responsive to this and I thank them for their help. As we proceeded through the referral process, you can only imagine my shock when I learned that there is only one program for people like my son that the court uses in the state. Currently there is a waiting list of 45 adolescents. It is only about a 50 bed facility. How can this be when there is such a great need for this type of program? We need a system that can provide a flexible range of services and justice for our children. Money is always the issue, but prisons are very expensive too, so it is just a matter of where the money is spent. I hope that none of you ever have to make the choice between leaving your child in an adult prison system in the hope that he will get the treatment he needs, or letting him out without any support system, left to find what he needs on your own. Believe me, if we do not invest in our children today, tomorrow there will never be enough prisons to put them in.

Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance - Justice Department research shows that youth incarcerated with adults are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities. Donna Bishop, PhD, from Northeastern University, has done research resulting in significant evidence showing that these policies have the opposite effect: trying youth in adult court increases crime! In a 1998 study, Professor Mark A. Cohen of Vanderbilt University highlighted the cost of failing to provide adequate supervision and treatment to troubled youth. The study found that every teen prevented from adopting a life of crime (including future adult offenses) could save the country between $1.7 million and $2.3 million per youth. Throwing kids into the adult system might appear to be cheaper in the short term, but in the long term, it is both expensive and costly.

Most importantly, changing this law so that adolescents are treated appropriately is simply the right thing to do. Not enacting this change sends a clear message that we do not believe in, or support, our young people.

Norma Schatz - As a citizen long involved with juvenile justice policy and programs to support raising the age, there are many reasons why, except for those who commit serious, violent crimes, that children under 18 should be dealt with in Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court should act as a sieve, holding all accountable, but responding with the most appropriate avenue to treatment, rehabilitation and value to society. While justice is an art, not a science, there are assessment tools, programs and policies that make decisions more assured.

Others will probably discuss important reasons for raising the age. I would like to discuss the issue of the permanent record. As a result of transfer to criminal court, a permanent record will affect a young person's employability, earnings, associates and family life. If we truly believe that "our children are our future", we must make every effort to redirect as many as possible who have slipped (or jumped) off the path back toward healthy and productive adulthood - as employees, as citizens, and as parents.

Susan Zimmerman, Policy Specialist for FAVOR, a family advocacy organization for children's mental health - How can you explain that locking up a child in solitary confinement is a good idea? What outcomes were you expecting? How could you possibly think that this could change behavior for the better? The change in jurisdiction proposed by this bill gives 16- and 17-year-olds the opportunity to access rehabilitation services, at a time when their developing brain can still benefit.

Connecticut Legal Services (CLS) - The Children at Risk Unit of Connecticut Legal Services, Inc. provides legal representation to low-income families who have children with disabilities, primarily to assist them in obtaining access to special education and mental health services. Studies have shown that as many as 70% of incarcerated youth suffer from some type of disability, whether this is a learning disability, emotional disturbance, mental health disorder, or a combination of multiple disabilities. It is absolutely crucial that these young 16- and 17-year-olds receive the treatment and rehabilitation that they need in order to become successful and productive adults. The adult criminal justice system does not have the same type of services, such as counseling, Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST), diversion, or alternatives to incarceration that are available to young people in the juvenile justice system.

Karen Zimmer, National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) – The court system can be a terrific point of entry for people who are not already in treatment. An arrest can be a great opportunity to get someone with a serious mental illness into the long-term help that they require. Two weeks of hospitalization, while exorbitantly expensive for the state, doesn't do the trick for many people. To just lock up a person with a serious mental illness is a huge waste of opportunity and money.

Individuals with serious mental illnesses do not belong in the prison system. Experts tell us, along with good common sense, that "prisons are the worst possible environments for individuals experiencing serious psychiatric symptoms". It costs significantly more to house a person with mental illness in a prison setting than it does to provide supportive housing ($40,000 vs. $13,000). When people with mental illness are not linked to the appropriate services, many of them wind up falling through the cracks of the treatment systems and into the criminal justice system. Close to 20% of people incarcerated in Connecticut prisons and jails suffer from mental illness.

A lack of available services and waiting lists result in many individuals with mental illnesses remaining in jail for extended periods of time before they are able to be transferred to the appropriate services. One example is with the state's jail diversion program, where 2 of the 3 main reasons cited for the inability to successfully divert people with mental illness are that approximately 300 out of the 500 individuals who are screened monthly have:

1) no home or stable place to live, and

2) no available services in the community

Another alarming trend is the fact that individuals with psychiatric disorders are not paroled at the same rate as the general prison population in Connecticut. This appears to be the result of the lack of appropriate discharge plans and/or the reluctance of the Parole Board to confront the multiple barriers and complex needs of inmates with mental illnesses. Reports show that prisoners with mental illnesses often find themselves in violation of the prison rules through the exhibition of their symptoms, have greater than average disciplinary rates, are more likely to serve their full sentence, and are more likely to be abused in prison. People with mental illnesses serve longer and harder time. Services, including treatment and supported housing and employment need to be offered on a much broader scale to reverse the trend of reincarceration related to parole violations.

We urge you to support the pre-arrest and post arrest jail diversion programs in this bill, and to stop the systematic exclusion of people with serious mental illnesses from alternatives to incarceration.

Members of People Against Injustice – Sally Joughin, Barbara Fair, Paul Cabral, Sharon Goodwin, David Firestone, Alan Brison

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Chief Jim Strillacci – Connecticut Police Chief's Association – Our concern is a practical one. We cannot ask these 16- or 17-year-olds questions without their parent or guardian present. This is a workload issue for us. Some of these people are very serious offenders. Some of their offenses involve guns and weapons.

16- and 17-year-olds can hold jobs. More importantly, they can drive. They have licenses. Every time we stop somebody for a motor vehicle offense, we would have to find a parent or a guardian before we could ask them about what was going on, even with an accident scene. Instead of just giving them a ticket, we would have to refer them to juvenile court. This would be very time-consuming, inefficient and not very practical.

Putting 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile system may deprive current juveniles of the services they need. It's hard to find beds now for some of these younger kids. If 16- and 17-year-olds are put into the juvenile system with younger children who they are bigger and stronger than, the younger kids are going to lose out. If the 16- and 17-year-olds are put into the adult criminal system, they are not going to be as rough and tough as the older offenders. Wherever the line is drawn, there are going to be issues.

 

Reported by:

Jeanne E. Clark

04/04/06