Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-796

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING LENGTHY SENTENCES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED BY A CHILD OR YOUTH AND THE SENTENCING OF A CHILD OR YOUTH CONVICTED OF CERTAIN FELONY OFFENSES.

Vote Date:

3/27/2015

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/4/2015

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

To ensure Connecticut's juvenile sentencing structure is constitutional and reflects the Supreme Court decisions in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010) and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S Ct. 2455 (2012).

In Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits imposition of life without parole on non-homicide juvenile felony offenders and that states must give juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole the meaningful opportunity to obtain release. In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S Ct. 2455 (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for those under 18 at the time of their crimes violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In accordance with those decisions, this bill creates parole guidelines for offenders under the age of 18 serving lengthy sentences imposed on Class A, B, and C felonies. Parole eligibility is at the discretion of the Board of Pardons and Parole. Notice will be given to the Office of the Chief Public Defenders, state's attorney, Victim Services within the DOC and Judicial Department, and the Office of the Victim Advocate.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Office of Chief Public Defender, Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, Legal Counsel, Director: The Office of the Chief Public Defender strongly supports SB 796, as this bill is necessary in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Miller and Graham. Chief Public Defender Susan Storey is a member of the sentencing commission and the Office was very involved with the discussions that lead to this bill. More than 70 filings, in the form of habeas corpus petitions and Motions to Correct an Illegal Sentence, have already been made statewide in response to Graham. Section 1 of SB 796 makes Connecticut compliant with Graham, providing a meaning review of a lengthy sentence imposed on a person who committed an offense under the age of 18. This review would make juveniles, who were sentenced as adults, eligible for parole. Section 2 of SB 796 is necessary in order to comply with Miller, which prohibits the imposition of life without parole for juvenile offenders without considering the mitigating factors of youth.

State of Connecticut African-American Affairs Commission, Subira Gordon, Legislative Analyst,: Subira Gordon submitted testimony in support of SB 796; 100% of juveniles serving a life sentence without parole are African American, 68% of juveniles serving over 50 years are African-American, and 62% of Juveniles serving over 12 years are African American. This legislation will make Connecticut compliant with the US Supreme Court rulings, but it is also a major stride in reforming the justice system.

State of Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate, Sarah Eagan, Child Advocate,: Sarah Eagan offered her testimony in support of SB 796. The OCA advocates for policies and practices that promote the well-being and special rights of children. This bill, by eliminating mandatory life without parole for juveniles and allowing judges to consider youth-related factors in sentencing youth is in line with the mission of the OCA.

Office of the Victim Advocate, Natasha Pierre, State Victim Advocate: The Office of the Victim Advocate opposes SB 796 in that the bill proposes separate eligibility process for juvenile offenders to seek early release and the general assembly must consider the impact on the victims and public safety. Natasha Pierre further opined that the bill is an “exaggerated interpretation” of the Supreme Court decisions. “Juveniles convicted of serious, violent crimes and sentenced to lengthy terms of confinement, should expect that such criminal conduct will have significant and severe consequences.”

State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families: DCF is in support of SB 796. Many of the juveniles who received lengthy sentences were involved with DCF and many had experienced trauma. Adolescent brain development continues for young adults into their mid-20s; they are capable of change and rehabilitation.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Rep. Bruce Morris, Chairman: On behalf of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Rep. Morris submitted testimony in strong support of HB 6926 and SB 796. “The reality in Connecticut is that Black and Latino youth are incarcerated at a disproportionally higher rate than white youth. To empower all communities and to eliminate the education and employment barriers that incarcerated youth face, the system needs to be remedied. HB 6926 and SB 796 would be a step in addressing the structural racial barriers our youths face in this state.”

Attorney Beth Hogan, Old Lyme, Connecticut: Attorney Hogan submitted testimony in support of SB 796; the sentencing commission worked diligently towards reasonable, rational and equitable legislation and this bill aligns with the criteria set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller and Graham.

Sen. Martin Looney, President Pro Tempore: Sen. Looney submits testimony in support of SB 796 because the bill is a response to the reasoning of the Supreme Court and its holdings in Miller and Graham. This bill will bring CT into compliance with the Supreme Court; eliminating automatic life without parole sentences for juveniles who have committed capital felonies and having courts consider youth-development related factors when sentencing a juvenile. SB 796 also creates an opportunity of a second chance for an offender who was under 18 at the time of the offense.

Yale College Democrats, Julia Rosenheim: On behalf of the Yale College Dems, Julia Rosenheim provided testimony in support of SB 796. “Passing this bill is not only the right thing to do considering all the expert advice about prison reform, the abundance of scientific evidence on brain development, or even the 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling. Passing this bill is also the right thing to do for all the individuals who would be assets to their communities given the opportunity for parole.” Ms. Rosenheim also brought 929 letters from Connecticut Residents in support.

Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Elisa Villa, President: The CCDLA strongly supports SB 796 in that it will amend the Connecticut General Statutes to comply with Miller v. Alabama, State v. Riley, and Graham v. Florida. SB 796 “reflects society's current understanding that adolescents change dramatically as they mature into adulthood and that it is appropriate to review the lengthy sentences of teenage offenders.”

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Nikola Nable-Juris, Policy Counsel and James Dold, Advocacy Director: “The Campaign supports SB 796 because, if signed into law, it will ensure that Connecticut fulfills the letter and spirit of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that children, because they are constitutionally different from adults, should not be subject to our nation's harshest punishments.” The testimony provides information regarding other states and laws that have passed in light of Miller and Graham. SB 796 is in line with states such as South Carolina, Ohio, Idaho, Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, and West Virginia.

Connecticut Sentencing Commission, Andrew Clark, Acting Executive Director: Andrew Clark provided testimony in support of SB 796. SB 796 mirrors the Sentencing Commission's consensus proposal for the 2014-2015 sessions. This bill brings Connecticut into line with the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Miller and Graham. Based on science and sociological studies, the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult and they are more capable of change. The first part of SB 796 provides that youth, serving lengthy sentences, are afforded a distinct parole hearing which would consider whether or not the individual has demonstrated the necessary maturity and rehabilitation to afford him/her release. The second part of SB 796 applies to any juvenile convicted as an adult of a class A, B, or C felony. At the time of sentencing, the court must take into consideration the difference between adult and juvenile brains when imposing a sentence.

Connecticut Sentencing Commission, Robert Farr, Andrew Clark, and Sarah Russell: Robert Farr was a working member of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, Andrew Clark is the acting executive director of the sentencing commission, and Sarah Russell is a professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law; all three testified in support of HB 6926 as they are members of the working group who drafted the language of SB 796. Their testimony is that the changes made in HB 6926 are consistent with the sentencing commission's consensus proposal and clarifies it as well.

Connecticut Bar Association, Alan J. Stobol, Chair Criminal Justice Section: The Criminal Justice section of the CBA is in support of SB 796. The bill demonstrates the recognition that the teenage brain is not fully developed. SB 796 does not open the flood gates, but instead requires that an inmate must demonstrate to the parole board that he or she has been rehabilitated. This bill gives juveniles a chance to become law abiding adults, and is an incentive for young offenders to take advantage of prison programs.

Center for Children's Advocacy, Marisa Mascolo Halm, Director TeamChild Juvenile Justice Project: The Center for Children's Advocacy is in support of SB 796 because the bill ensures that Connecticut is complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Miller and Graham. Youth are less culpable than adults and have a greater capacity to rehabilitate. Connecticut's current sentencing practices disproportionally impact CT's youth of color. SB 796 will also limit litigation and increase the supervision of parolees.

Innocence Project of Florida, Stanley Hendel and Harriet Hendel: The Hendel's support SB 796 because of their interactions with Connecticut inmate Robin Ledbetter. Ledbetter was sentenced to serve fifty years at the age of 14. They support the premise behind SB 796 for juveniles serving sentences like Ledbetter because providing these such inmates with a second chance sends a clear message about the possibility of redemption. Robin and other similarly situated inmates have more to give to society beyond prison walls.

Blanca Rivera, submitting testimony on behalf of her son Makee Rivera: Blanca and Makee Rivera support SB 796. Makee Rivera was convicted of committing a crime at the age of sixteen. He was sentenced at the age of eighteen for a total sentence of twenty-five years suspended after fifteen years with twenty-five years of probation. He is asking for the General Assembly to consider the differences between juveniles and adults, and to provide juveniles the opportunity for a second chance.

Rachel Ortiz, Wife of Wilfredo Ortiz, Inmate #267596: Mr. Ortiz supports SB 796 because it provides inmates like him a chance at parole. Wilfredo Ortiz, now thirty-four, was seventeen when he was sentenced to twenty-seven years for felony murder. He has taken advantage of programs offered to inmates in prison, earning his GED, CNA license and is the coordinator of Osborn CI's Alternatives to Violence program. This bill is the only opportunity he has at being eligible for parole.

York Correctional Writers' Group, Careen Jennings, Volunteer Co-Facilitator: Careen Jennings submitted testimony in support of SB 796 because in her thirty-seven years as a high school teacher and ten years volunteering at York, she has seen how malleable young brains are. She asks members of the General Assembly to think about decisions they made before they turned eighteen. “All other developed countries have chosen to try to save their kids, not throw them away. It's cheaper. It's safer. And it works.”

Connecticut Psychological Association: The Connecticut Psychological Association is writing in support of SB 796. This bill will provide review of lengthy sentences imposed on juveniles. There is a well-established body of psychological research that supports this review based on the psychological and physiological differences between children and adults. National organizations joined with the American Psychological Association in filing amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Graham and Miller.

Quinnipiac University Professor of Sociology and Director of the Criminal Justice Program, Alan Bruce: Alan Bruce provides testimony in strong support of SB 796. In 2007, CT raised the age at which individual are eligible to be processed through the juvenile justice system from 16 to 18 years. Passage of SB 796 is consistent with the rational implicit in the 2007 legislation in addition to being consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court rationale in Roper, Graham, and Miller. “It is time for Connecticut to further demonstrate its recognition of the 'mitigating qualities of youth' evident in the decision to raise the jurisdiction in the juvenile justice system by passing SB 796 and give the opportunity for individuals serving lengthy sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles to have their sentences reviewed.”

Elizabeth Beinfield, Rowayton, CT: Elizabeth Beinfield submitted written testimony in support of SB 796 because of her relationship with Eddie Turnage. Eddie Turnage, inmate #255942, was fifteen years old when he was sentenced to thirty-two years. SB 796 would provide inmates like Turnage with the possibility of parole, taking into consideration their maturation behind bars. At thirty-four, Turnage has used his time in prison to reflect and mature; he is no longer thwarted by the anger, confusion and peer pressure he was facing at a teenager.

York Correctional Institute Volunteer, Susan Budlong Cole: Susan Budlong Cole supports SB 796 as an enlightened approach to juvenile justice. After retiring as a substance abuse counselor, Ms. Cole began volunteering with Wally Lamb's writing group at York. The experience opened her eyes to the injustice of lifelong sentences. “A just system needs to recognize the now well-documented ability of youth to mature and change; to develop empathy and the critical thinking necessary to make sound adult decisions.”

Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Laura Herscovitch, Deputy Director: The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is in strong support of SB 796. It is the organization's stance that it is morally, ethically, legally, and fiscally wrong to lock juveniles up and throw away the key; a second look would fix this problem. SB 796 does not jeopardize public safety and it would bring Connecticut into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trinity College, Sarah A. Raskin, Neuropsychologist and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience: Dr. Raskin is in support of SB 796 as her work is focused on the interaction of the brain and behavior. Her testimony is based on her work in neuroscience, specifically regarding the plasticity of the brain. Between 15 and 18 years of age, the brain undergoes tremendous change to the prefrontal cortex; the prefrontal cortex is involved in planning, problem-solving, impulse control, and emotional regulation. The decisions and judgments of a teenager are very different than an adult, necessitating a second look.

Professor of Psychiatry at UConn School of Medicine and Director of the Center for Trauma Recovery and Juvenile Justice, Julian Ford: Dr. Ford, based on his extensive medical background in psychiatry and child health and development, strongly supports SB 796.

National Alliance on Mental Illness of Connecticut, Susan Kelley, Child and Adolescent Public Policy Manager: NAMI Connecticut supports SB 796. There is well-established scientific evidence that adolescents have underdeveloped brains, making them more impulsive and susceptible to peer-pressure than adults, lacking in foresight. Parole eligibility rules and eliminating mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles will allow the justice system to take this science into account.

The Sentencing Project, Josh Rovner, State Advocacy Associate: The Sentencing Project offers testimony in support of SB 796. This national organization provides research on the capacity for juveniles to change, what it is like to be a “juvenile lifer,” and common sense regarding a teenage brain. More than thirteen states and the District of Columbia have already acted on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Miller and Graham, Connecticut should join them.

Trinity College, Judy Dworin, Executive/Artistic Director Judy Dworin Performance Project and Professor: Judy Dworin provides testimony in support of SB 796. For the past nine years she has been leading education and arts intervention programs at York CI. Her work has afforded her the insight to see how capable these juveniles are of change. The women she works with have taken advantage of the arts and education offerings, showing growth and potential. This bill would offer these women the “sound and humane opportunities afforded to youthful offenders.”

Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, Michael Culhane, Executive Director: The CCPA supports Sb 796. In the last seven years, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that youth must be treated differently than adults because of their unique potential for change and rehabilitation. SB 796 recognizes this capacity in youth for Connecticut.

National Association of Social Workers Connecticut Chapter, Christi Staples: The NASW Connecticut Chapter supports SB 796 based on juvenile brain development and each juvenile's personal history. Adolescents sentenced in adult court with lengthy sentences are being denied the opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation even if they are successful in treatment and rehab. This is humane and sensible legislation.

African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities, Inc., Ann Smith, Executive Director: AFCAMP advocates for important reform in the juvenile justice system and is in support of SB 796. This bill would change parole eligibility, taking into consideration the scientific differences in the development of juvenile and adult brains.

Wesleyan University Center for Prison Education, Dara Young, Program Manager: Dara Young is in support of SB 796. Ten percent of the students studying with Wesleyan's Center are serving long sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles. This bill would dramatically affect these students who have the determination to transform their lives.

Quinnipiac University School of Law Legal Clinic, Denise Krall and Janie McDermott, Juvenile Sentencing Project: The QUSL Legal clinic is in support of SB 796. SB 796 responds to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Graham and Miller, ensuring that Connecticut's juvenile sentencing structure is constitutional.

York Correctional Writers' Group, Douglas Hood, Volunteer: Douglas Hood testifies in favor of SB 796 on behalf of a York CI inmate he has worked with while volunteering with a writing group. This inmate, who was incarcerated at fourteen, had been a seventh grade dropout and attempted suicide three times while at York—despite all that, she has grown and matured in prison. She is enrolled in Wesleyan course, has been published and won awards for her writing. “She has emerged a strong woman that looks to a future even though she has none.”

Students from UConn School of Social Work: A collection of students from the UConn School of Social Work submitted testimony in support of SB 796. As social workers, this policy should be supported because children are more likely to reform than adults who commit the same offenses. Youth should be a priority; this bill is in line with Governor Malloy's “Second Chance Society.” This bill also reduces unnecessary costs, it costs three times the amount of money to incarcerate inmates eligible for SB 796 than it does for community supervision.

MacDougall Correctional Institution Volunteer, Tollie Miller: Tollie Miller submits testimony in support of SB 796. She has led co-weekly mediation classes at MacDougall for three years; one of the members of this class is Nicholas Aponte. Aponte has served eighteen years of his thirty-eight year sentence for felony murder when he was seventeen. He is one of 200 inmates who would be impacted by the law in SB 796. He is an inmate who has demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, expressing deep remorse for his crime. This bill is the “the thing to do.”

Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, Charlotte Finegold, Co-Director of Advocacy and Awareness: The Yale Undergraduate Prison Project is in support of SB 796 as it is essential to reforming Connecticut's juvenile justice laws to recognize the neurological research regarding juvenile brain development. YUPP works with more than 100 inmates who have devoted themselves to their education. It is not na´ve to think that these inmates deserves a second look, “their stories conform to scientific evidence that shows that those who enter the criminal justice system as juveniles are more likely to better themselves.”

Connecticut Professors: A collection of professors in the field of criminal law, juvenile law, child development, international human rights, and constitutional law and professors who have taught in prisons submitted testimony in support of SB 796. They have supported this legislation for the past three years. Their testimony urges the passage of this bill; early this year, the Connecticut Supreme Court announced that “staying our hand in deference to a coordinate branch of government is particularly appropriate in this case…there is every reason to believe that the legislature will take definite action regarding these issues with all deliberate speed” when it struck down Ackeem Riley's one hundred year sentence and remanded the case for resentencing in light of Miller. This legislation is the response the CT Supreme Court is looking for, it sets out strict guidelines for parole eligibility, the “meaningful opportunity at a second chance (Graham), and addresses the court's consideration of mitigating factors of youth when sentencing a juvenile offender (Miller).

York Correctional Writers' Group, Wally Lamb, Author and Volunteer: Wally Lamb provides testimony in support of SB 796 by recounting the story of “Keesha,” a fourteen year old sentenced to fifty years for felony murder. Keesha has served eighteen years of her sentenced; in this time she has become a mature, responsible, and fully rehabilitated young woman—but her only opportunity for release before she turns sixty-four is this bill. “Women like Keesha have earned this chance through hard but necessary work of rehabilitation.”

Valerie Rossetti, Physician and Volunteer at Connecticut Correctional Institutions: Dr. Rossetti testified in support of SB 796. This bill will bring Connecticut into compliance with Miller and Graham. Not only does she testify as a doctor with knowledge of the human neural development, but as a volunteer who has been impacted by the story of Nicholas Aponte.

Greta Blanchard, Unionville, CT: Ms. Blanchard testified in support of SB 796 and included in her testimony a letter from Michael Spyke. Greta Blanchard was an alternate juror in Spyke's trial; she was shocked that the jury convicted him on three of four counts and sentenced him to fifty years. Spyke's letter testifies to his propensity for change and what he has done to excel while behind bars. He would be one of the juveniles serving a lengthy sentence to be eligible for parole under SB 796.

Nealy Zimmermann, Former Volunteer for the Connecticut Department of Corrections: Nealy Zimmermann worked to develop a prison hospice program, training inmates to be hospice and bereavement volunteers; her work with these men and women are the reason she urges the passage of SB 796. She witnessed first-hand that juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes can change and mature.

Leslie Aponte, Mother of Nicholas Aponte, Inmate #240836: Ms. Aponte testified in support of SB 796 as her son was 17 when he was sentenced to 38 years for felony murder. Her son would be eligible for parole with the passage of this bill. In addition to her testimony she submitted the New Haven Independent article “Should Nick Get a Second Chance” by Michelle Hackman.

Hartford City Council, Dr. Larry Deutch: Dr. Deutch testified in support of SB 796. He testified in his capacity as a juror in a case involving a juvenile offender who was sentenced to a lengthy term of years. He sees SB 796 as a sentence modification hearing based on science and common sense. Juveniles have the ability to change.

Roberto Vergara, Formerly Incarcerated Juvenile: Roberto Vergara testified in support of SB 796 as a juvenile offender who served eighteen years of his thirty-three prison sentence for home invasion. Mr. Vergara believes in change because he has changed.

Family Reentry, Daee McKnight, Prerelease/Reentry Coordinator: Mr. McKnight testified in support of SB 796 as a formerly incarcerated man who now facilitates reentry groups in Connecticut prisons. Daee McKnight served seventeen and a half years of his twenty-five year sentence for committing murder at the age of nineteen. His testimony is based on his own success story and the successes of other prisoners who have been able to successfully transition to life outside of prison. He also notes that the risk this bill presents is minimal as long as there are supports for these individuals in place.

Family Reentry Program, Frederick Hodges, Manager of Fresh Start Programs: Frederick Hodges was also incarcerated, served seventeen and a half years of his thirty year sentence, and supports SB 796. His support of the bill is based on the work he has done with inmates and working with them once they get home. Family Reentry is just one program that is up and running ready to help these offenders transition and be successful outside of prison when this legislation passes.

Willie Ledbetter, Father of Inmate Robin Ledbetter: Mr. Ledbetter testified in support of SB 796 on behalf of his daughter. Robin Ledbetter was sentenced to fifty years at the age of fourteen for felony murder. He is a reformed career criminal who blames himself for the circumstances that led to his daughter's incarceration.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Jack Holden, Father of Kyle Holden: Mr. Holden opposes SB 796 and HB 6926 as his son was murdered in a carjacking on 10/15/1999, one of the carjackers was 126 days short of his 18th birthday. Jack Holden asks the General Assembly to think about his family's suffering.

John Cluny, Father of David Cluny and Husband of Elaine Cluny: Mr. Cluny opposes SB 796. His wife and son were murdered by Michael Bernier, age 15. He asks the General Assembly to imagine the magnitude of his loss. Additionally, Mr. Cluny attached a letter from Kimberly Charles, a former student of his wife, to his testimony. Ms. Charles wrote to Mr. Cluny about how his wife shaped her life. She also expressed her solidarity with Mr. Cluny, and that punishment must align with the crime.

Reported by: Angela Cortese

Date: April 16, 2015