Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday urged legislators to pass a bill before the legislative session ends early next month that makes a number of changes to juvenile crime laws.
House Bill 5417 will, among other things, require juvenile offenders to appear before a judge within five days after their arrest. And after a juvenile’s second motor vehicle or property offense, the court will be allowed to order electric monitoring.
The bill also provides for graduated penalties for motor vehicle theft based on prior convictions, rather than on the value of the vehicle.
In addition, the bill will also expand on punishing certain homicide and firearms crimes, allowing sentences to be up to 60 months.
Lamont met with officers in East Hartford to express support of HB 5417.
Lamont said the bill has bipartisan support and will help keep the communities safe from repeat juvenile offenders.
Lamont said the proposal is not an attempt to send more children to Manson Youth Institution, the state’s prison for children and young adults that was recently the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found the conditions there violated the constitutional rights of minors.
“I’m not looking to put kids in adult prison,” said Lamont.
East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom said police shouldn’t regularly be used for juvenile crime, only in extreme cases.
“A crime bill is more than about just law enforcement,” Lamont said. “And these last two years of COVID hell has been really tough, especially our young people. I think each and every one of you knows that, and we’re doing everything we can to, as the chief said, to have police in the last line of defense, [as] the last resort.”
Lamont said the first line of support should be the schools, coaches, mentors and programs that the state offers.
“[These are] giving people, young people in particular, a better alternative, something to live for, something to believe in, something that gets them going every day,” Lamont said. “That’s what our priority is.”
Car thefts have dominated headlines and press conferences for the past year. Such crimes saw an increase in 2020 compared to the historic lows from 2019, as more cars were stolen in surrounding suburban communities and towns compared to the state’s bigger cities. Preliminary data indicates a decrease in stolen cars in 2021, lending support to the theory that the spike during the pandemic’s first year was due to widespread social disruptions to society, including school closures and a pause on after-school programming.
“The rates are going down as kids go back to school and some normalcy comes back,” said Speaker of the House Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford.
Ritter said there could be a political advantage for legislators to pass a bill dealing with the issue before the November election. Some in his caucus said they did something to address car thefts, but he’s not sure that he or House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, are in districts where constituents are clamoring for this kind of legislation.
“But we want to work with people, and if we can make common sense reforms that don’t send us back 15 years, then I’ll support those,” said Ritter.
Rojas said the juvenile crime bill is connected to the children’s mental health proposal legislators are also considering in the session’s waning days.
“It’s not just about crime, but it’s about how young people have been traumatized by the pandemic and how that’s manifesting itself,” he said.
Lamont said he also believed the juvenile crime bill and the mental health crisis will work hand in hand.
“I’m really pleased the legislature is getting very close to a mental health bill, a mental health bill that deals with effects along COVID, which is not just respiratory, but a lot of real distress that we’ve seen out there,” Lamont said. “And particularly when it comes to our young people.”