JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE CONNECTICUT SENTENCING COMMISSION REGARDING THE SENTENCING OF A CHILD CONVICTED OF A FELONY OFFENSE.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
Bill 1160 is designed to prevent children who commit felonies prior to age 18 from being unfairly tried as adults due to the inherent differences in the brains of both adults and juveniles; and to recognize mitigating circumstances that may have been involved in the perpetration of the crime. The bill codifies the Miller v Alabama case which states that sentencing youths to prison terms of excessive length violates their 8th amendment rights protecting them against cruel and unusual punishment. `
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Jamey Bell, Child Advocate: She believes that, given the scientific evidence that the brain continues to developed far into the 20's, sentencing a child by a set of laws designed for adults sets the bar unfairly high for youths who have not developed all of the necessary mental faculties to truly discern the consequences of their actions and thus, life without parole is an unfair sentence to place on a juvenile offender.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
David Norman: David is a third year law student at Quinnipiac Law School. He states that Connecticut Law currently allows imposing mandatory life without parole sentences on children as young as 14. He continues, saying that children have a unique ability to rehabilitate themselves and change in a way that adults cannot; these mandatory sentences also disproportionality effect poor children who are primarily of African American and Hispanic heritage.
Larry Deutsch: Larry speaks as the current minority leader for the City Council of Hartford, but also speaks from experience as a pediatrician as well as a former high school teacher. He points out that sometimes in juvenile cases, the representation of the defendant is not at a sufficient level to allow such strict sentences to be imposed on the offenders.
Moira Buckley, CT Criminal Defense Lawyers Assc.: Moira is the president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. She argues that there are laws of consent for sexual intercourse, as well as legal age limits for driving, as well as drinking. This goes to show that there are aspects within the law and society that determine that children are to be treated differently due to their still maturing brains and personalities. The fact that adult sentencing guidelines can be imposed on children despite the law recognizing them as needing to be protected until they reach a sufficient age in maturity is a contradiction within our own statutes. As a result, she believes that Bill 6581 and 1062 should be passed to protect children from being given adult sentences when they commit crimes as children.
Robert and Brandon Durant: These brothers are speaking on behalf of their other brother Marcus Price. Marcus committed a crime when he was 16 and was sentenced when he was 17 and has been incarcerated for the past 15 years. He states that Marcus has reformed himself to such a point that he is a model inmate who has matured mentally, physically, and emotionally. He believes that Marcus deserves a second chance, or at least a second look, given the amount of time that has lapsed since his conviction and the amount of growth that he has made on an emotional level.
Carmen Gunn: Carmen argues that youths often do not know what their Miranda rights are, and subsequently do not receive proper defense when they are in the courts, and that children offenders should receive a second chance if they show the proper amount of growth and contrition for the crimes that they committed in their childhoods.
Laresse Harvey: Laresse is the director of strategic relations for A Better Way Foundation and the founder and executive director of the Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company. He believes that mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines should be removed as they achieve few of their stated objectives and do not work. He also believes that drug free school zones are not effective as stated because their effective distances are so large that the entire urban zone is effectively a drug free school zone, so their inherent meaning is lost.
Tessa Bialek, Lewenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale, Student: She argues that few countries in the world sentence children as strictly as we do, and that does not reflect well upon us in the international stage; as we are international role models for other countries.
Beth Hogan, Seifert & Hogan: Beth is an attorney from Seifert and Hogan. She supports bill 1062 as well as Bill 6582, which has a rehabilitation portion to it, as she believes that further study of rehabilitation is a necessary step.
Imam Abdul Shahid Muhammad Ansari: He is the president of the Greater Hartford branch of the NAACP as well as the political action chair of the state conference of NAACP branches and is speaking in place of State Conference President Scott Esdaile. He argues that long sentences are served disproportionately by youth of color, and that as the length of these sentences increase, so does the disparity.
Barbara Fair: She states that we, as a society, recognize children as children, and thus it is senseless to treat them as children in society, but adults in court. She also points out that in New Haven, 90% of these cases are plea bargained. She states that people don't plea bargain because they are guilty, but because they do not believe that the system will do right by them, and so they take the deal. She believes that the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements are unfair because they present children with the possibility of a 40 year sentence if they go to trial, so they take the lesser, but still harsh, sentence so as to avoid the huge sentence that might be imposed on them if they go to trial.
Frederick Hodges: He is a former inmate at Summers Prison and he speaks about how his sentence rehabilitated him and gave him a new outlook on life, love and happiness. He speaks to the fact that people can change, and this is especially the case when they are convicted as juvenile offenders. He asks the Judiciary Committee to pass this bill so as to prevent people who are convicted in their early years from spending their whole lives in prison even if they have fundamentally changed who they are and what they believe in.
Amy O'Connor: Amy is a student at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a resident of New Haven CT. She cites a national study that 80% of youth who were sentenced to life without parole witnessed violence in the home, as well, the vast majority perceived their neighborhoods to be unsafe and saw drugs and violence in their neighborhood on a weekly basis. As well, many were victims of abuse. Given all the mitigating circumstances that can be applied to youth offenders, she believes that new sentencing guidelines need to be instated in order to take these circumstances into account so that children may be sentenced more fairly.
Daee Muhammad-McKnight: He make a similar argument to the other supporters, that the brain is not fully developed at the age at which the crime was perpetrated and thus mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole is a violation of the 8th amendment rights of the offenders. He asks that we value human life and the ability to rehabilitate ourselves.
Abby Anderson, CT Juvenile Justice Alliance, Executive Director: She points to a national trend in moving juveniles out of the adult prison system and into the youth system, and approves the progress that our penal system is making. She notes that life without parole is not only a burden to the inmates but also a burden to the state as these people are put up by taxpayer dollars, and will never be a productive influence on society.
-Written Testimony: Because children tend to discount consequences and act with adults in groups, a 14 year old who is serving as a lookout for somebody else's robbery or a driver for somebody else's holdup can receive as much prison time as the culprit who actually pulled the trigger. Just because a child commits a bad act does not mean that they will forever have a bad character.
Michael C. Culhane, CT Catholic Public Affairs Conference, Exectutive Director: He stresses that children are inherently different than adults, and therefore it is senseless that we sentence both children and adults under the same set of laws. He speaks to other forces on the psyche of the child such as peer pressure, and asks that the law take these external forces into account when determining the future of a child.
Ms. Parker: Ms. Parker is the mother of an inmate who was incarcerated when he was a youth and has been in prison for 16 years. He was approached by law enforcement without the presence of an attorney or a legal guardian. She believes that given these circumstances, such long prison terms are unfair and unjust.
Wally Lamb: He is an author and educator who is in contact with a York Prison inmate who he names “Keesha”. He states her history as growing up on the streets getting kicked from one household to another, each one worse than the last, until finding herself committing robberies on the streets in order to get by. He goes on to say that this woman, who grew up largely within the penal system, has now rehabilitated herself to a point where she is a fully functioning adult who is a model prisoner at 32 years old. Despite her rehabilitation however, Keesha will not be eligible for parole until she is 64, and so Wally asks that the injustice that is built into our system to be rectified.
Igor Mitschka, Yale College Democrats: He argues that sentencing children and youth to length sentences breaches the societal agreement that the youngest members of our society need to enjoy special protections. He also states that the United States is the only country to pass down sentences of life without parole to offenders who are less than 18 years old.
Christian Rhally, Yale College Democrats: Christian urges the committee to rethink their sentencing guidelines with respect to child offenders. He draws a comparison to his native country of Switzerland which states that “Intentional Murder” in which the offender is particularly unscrupulous carries with it a sentence of “lifelong imprisonment” of at least 10 years. Offenders who are between the ages of 15 and 18 can receive sentences ranging from one day to one year. Despite the much more lienent sentences in Switzerland, the crime rates are drastically lower in Switzerland when compared to the United States. He urges the committee to lower their mandatory sentences as it is better for society as a whole.
Alexander Emmons, Amnesty International: He points out that America is unique among developed Democracies, in that European nations have a maximum sentence for minors under 15 years, and have lower crime rates. He argues that life without parole for minors does not make our society more secure, or deter crime; it only denies that a minor who committed an offense is incapable of change.
Naima Sakande, Yale Prison Initiative: She argues that according to the Human Rights Watch, there are currently 2,589 youth offenders serving sentences of life without parole in the United States. She believes that imposing life sentences on youth offenders is a public acknowledgement that we, as a society, no longer believe in the concepts of rehabilitation or contrition for past acts.
Sara Frankel: She is a representative of the Public Policy Director for Children, Youth and Young Adults with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Many of the behaviors that cause youths to become offenders are the consequence of untreated mental illness. As well, she states that about a quarter of all children have an emotional-behavioral disorder and that this needs to be taken into account when sentencing youth offenders.
Nia Holston, Black Student Alliance, Political Action Chair: In Connecticut, children who are charged with certain crimes are automatically sentenced in the adult system and are given lengthy adult prison terms. She believes this to be an injustice and asks that the court take the mental state of the offender in the case, i.e. the underdeveloped brains of youth offenders, into account when imposing prison terms on youth offenders, and asks that the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama be taken into account, which states that long prison sentences on youth offenders violate their 8th amendment rights protecting them against cruel and unusual punishment.
Jacob Wasserman, Yale College Democrats, Legislative Captain: He argues that the extenuating circumstances involved in youth crime: brain development, domestic violence, abuse etc. be taken into account when the sentences are passed down; to leave the statute as it is, would constitute a graves injustice to both the defendants as well as society as a whole.
Connecticut Voices for Children: The organization advocates the passage of both bill 1062 as well as bill 6581, stating that both the bills have already received the support of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan group of judges, law enforcement, and prison officials, and thus the bills should be passed. In order to comply with the 2012 Miller v Alabama ruling, Connecticut must abolish its life without parole sentences for Juveniles.
Quinnipiac University School of Law: Civil Justice Clinic: The Civil Justice Clinic advocates that Connecticut will need to reform its sentencing guidelines according to the Miller v Alabama ruling, and cites much of the same evidence given in testimony from other supporters; mainly the new science in the field of brain development. Their submitted report, “Youth Matters” argues that, since “children are inherently different than adults and thus Connecticut can no longer afford to impose severe penalties on children as though they were as mentally competent adults. Sentencing laws should reflect public values and fiscal sense, and provide Connecticut's Children with a 'second look'”.
David McGuire: David is a staff Attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut. He argues that the state pays thousands of dollars every year for each person in prison with the intention of protecting society from dangerous felons. However, in the case of juvenile offenders, it is quite clear that the mental state that produced a young offender is often quite different from the mental state of a young adult who has been incarcerated for several years, and as a result, the penal system need to acknowledge the ability for a youth offender to mature into a responsible young adult. He also points to the racial imbalance among children serving prison sentences, stating that African American and Hispanic children are by far the largest block of children given lengthy prison terms.
Liz Benfield: Liz Benfield submitted written testimony on behalf of Edward Turnage who is currently incarcerated for committing a capital offense. She describes the circumstances that led to Edward to committing murder. She describes his childhood as being stressful and without any parental guidance, and his mental state when he committed the crime. He was sentenced when he was given a sentence of 32 years, of which he must serve 28. He has currently served 16 years, and Liz asks that his case be given a second look given the amount of progress that Edward has made.
Yale Law School: Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic: The Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic is in favor of second-look sentence review for people serving long sentences for acts that they committed as children. The report submitted draws comparisons between sentencing guidelines for youth in Europe as compared to America. The European penalties are much less strict when compared with American penalties. They argue, “International law requires proportionality in sentencing practices applied to children; sentencing must promote the well-being of the child and reflect the special circumstances of the offense and the individual child”. In addition, international law requires that criminal sanctions for children promote their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. They find the sentencing standards for children in America are contradictory to these international statues and ask that the guidelines for sentencing children be updated to put their well-being first.
Judy Dworin: Judy is the Executive/Artistic director of the Judy Dworin Performance Project, as well as a Professor of Theatre and Dance at Trinity College. Judy supports the initiative to take second-looks at offenders with long sentences who were sentenced as children. She argues that mistakes made prior to the age of 18 must be looked at with a different lens than the mistakes of adults who have had many more years to develop and mature; she believes the judicial system should reflect this.
Sara. A Raskin, PHD: Sara is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Trinity College. Her work is currently focused on the interaction of the brain and behavior, and especially focuses on changes in the brain and brain plasticity. She states that the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that does not finish developing until at least age 18, is responsible for planning, impulse control, and emotions. Given that the portion of the brain that is responsible for choosing our actions is not fully mature until at least 18, she believes that our judicial system should take this biological fact into account when passing out prison sentences to youth offenders. As a result, she believes that the system should take a second look at these offenders once their brains have matured, to see if they are capable of being re-integrated into society rather than left permanently behind bars for actions that they committed as children, while possibly not fully understanding the ramifications of those actions.
Linda C. Mayes, MD, Arnold Gessel: Linda Mayes is an MD at the Yale University Child study center, and Arnold Gessel is a professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology at the same center. They argue that the neuroscience behind brain development is quite clear, in that the brain is not fully mature and functioning until at least 18 years of age. There is science that points to the idea that we are not fully capable of understanding our actions until we are well into 'adulthood' and thus we should not over penalize children who committed illegal acts when they were unduly affected by stress due to their underdeveloped brains. The development of the brain is even further slowed by early childhood adversity and stress in the home and their social networks.
Careen Jennings: Careen points out the inconsistencies that are present in our legal dealings with children. She argues that while a 17 year old can drive, but cannot sign a contract, cannot drink, and cannot vote. Yet a 17 year old who commits a crime may be tried as an adult. She argues, as a former teacher, that she understands just how malleable the adolescent brain is and stresses that we must allow our children to mature rather than simply condemning them to a life in prison with no hope of rehabilitation.
Jody Kent Lavy, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Director: The Campaign supports sound public policy that promotes accountability and keeps communities safe through the recognition of fundamental differences between youth and adults. Second look provisions ensure that youth convicted of serious crimes have the chance to work towards release if they can prove their new rehabilitated state.
V. Rev. Myles N. Sheehan, S.J, New England Society of Jesus.: Rev. Myles Sheehan advocates for second look provisions to be instituted into the Connecticut sentencing guidelines. He stresses that adults and children think differently and thus should be tried differently. He believes that our society should value rehabilitation and should allow those convicted as youths to be given a second chance.
Alec Buchanan, MD, Andrew Lustbader, MD, CT Psychological Association: The CPA argues that in three recent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that children are less culpable than adults, and are more capable of change than adults. The body of research that shows the fundamental differences between adults and children is growing every year, and the CPA asks that the judicial system reflect this change in the facts concerning the culpability of children.
Martha Stone, Director of the Center for Children's Advocacy, Alexandra Dufresne, Staff Attorney: Martha Stone is the Executive Director of the Center for Children's Advocacy, and Alexandra Dufresne is a staff attorney at the same organization. They argue the three main points offered in most of the other supporting arguments. 1) Children have a greater capacity for change than adults, and the brains themselves function differently depending on the age and background of the individual. 2) Children who commit serious crimes are less culpable than adults, as held by the Supreme Court in 3 recent cases. 3) Lengthy Juvenile sentences disproportionately effect Connecticut's minority youth population. Given these 3 points, they argue that the bills be passed to make the sentencing guidelines more fair.
Kathy Waters, Association of Women Executives, President: She argues that the bills should be passed so that youths that committed crimes can be provided a second look partially through their sentence so that they can be appraised again in an age appropriate manner.
Nealy Zimmerman: Nealy was the former executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to Improve End-of-Life Care, Inc. He argues that the proposed legislation would be a meaningful opportunity for a child sentenced as an adult for serious offenses. He offers anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the ability of a person to rehabilitate themselves, and believes that second chances should be instituted into the penal system.
Connecticut Professors: This group of individuals is not affiliated with any group, but was joined on an individual basis by professors who teach criminal law, juvenile law, child development, international human rights, or constitutional law. The professors argue that a “second look” clause should be instituted after a significant portion of the original sentence has been served by the juvenile offenders.
Advocacy for Children with Disabilities: The group supports legislation to provide review of long prison sentences imposed on children. They argue that there is a high rate of confluence between children with juvenile justice contact and children with disabilities and mental disorders. They argue that even children without mental health disorders or disabilities do not have the full cognitive function of adults and therefore should not be tried as such. They advocate for the second look clause to be instituted to help release those who have rehabilitated themselves after a significant portion of their sentence has been served.
Honorable David M. Borden, Sentencing Commission's Legislative Committee, Chairman: He writes that the mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. As well, when sentencing those under the age of 18 to long, life-equivalent sentences, the unique qualities of youth must be taken into consideration. He argues that in order to comply with the Miller v. Alabama decision, Connecticut must amend its current sentencing guidelines that concern children.
Susan Budlong Cole: Susan is a York C.I. Volunteer with the Wally Lamb Inmate Writers. She urges the Judiciary Committee to support an 'enlightened approach' to juvenile justice and correction. She provides anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that inmates convicted as youths have an ability to rehabilitate themselves in a way that adults cannot. She stresses that a juvenile who spends some time in jail will have more to offer when they are finally released than an adult who has spent more of their life behind bars than as a free member of society.
Lou Lawrence: Lou writes on behalf of his son who has been in corrections since the age of 16 and is now 33. He regrets that his son had to grow up in prison due to decisions that he made in his youth. He hopes that Tarrence will have a chance to be released and mentor others into not following the same path that he did.
Bianca Rosado: She writes on behalf of her brother Ahmet Ojeda who has been incarcerated for 10 years following an 18 year sentence that he was given at the age of 18. She agrees with the Supreme Court that such long prison sentences violate her brother's 8th amendment rights, and asks that the Judicary passes these bills so as to rectify this issue.
Margarita Ledesma: Margarita writes that the system doling out sentences of life without parole sentences for juveniles violates both their 8th and 14th amendment rights. She also writes about her son, Ahmet Ojeda, who is currently serving an 18 year sentence that he was handed at the age of 18. Prior to his conviction, he had no criminal record, and since his conviction he has been a model inmate. She asks that the second look provision be added in order to allow people such as her son to show the prison system, as well as society, that people can change and rehabilitate themselves.
Nicholas Aponte: Nicholas Aponte writes from the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Facility. He was sentenced to 38 years after being complicit in a robbery-gone-wrong that resulted in the death of subway clerk. Nicholas writes with contrition stating that he was reformed himself and has truly grown into a different person from his previous youthful-offending self. Nicholas' history is accompanied by numerous recommendations from guards as well as supervisors who state that Nicholas would be an ideal candidate for the second look program.
Harriet and Stanley Hendel: Harriet and Stanley write on behalf of Robin Ledbetter, a current inmate. They have known Robin for 4 years through her writing in the Wally Lamb program and stress that she has grown into a caring and intelligent adult. They go on to mention that they would welcome her into their home as permanent addition to their lives and that they believe that she deserves a second chance; that her whole life should not revolve around one mistake she made at the age of 14.
Sofia Bachiashvili: Sofia is currently a senior at the University of Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, CT. She is originally from the Republic of Georgia, and she was 'appalled' that minors under the age of 18 could receive sentences of 50 years of more for juvenile offenses. She compares this statute to the Georgian statute that states that the maximum sentence that can be imposed on a youth offender is 16-18 years. She advocates that the bill be passed, but that further reform of youth sentencing is required.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: Collin Cowdery