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Conn. lawmakers advance a policing bill for juvenile crime

HB 5417 Press Conference
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, WNPR

The Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would give police and judges more power when dealing with juvenile crime.

The most significant change that the bill’s text would make would allow local police to have access to juvenile criminal records. East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom said that this is a necessary step to crack down on a small number of repeat offenders.

“Let’s not forget, this is a very small percentage of youth that we’re talking about. In East Hartford, most of our youth, for less serious times, go to diversionary programs,” Sansom said in a news conference Tuesday. “But when we have the repeat offenders that have been caught in multiple jurisdictions, we weren’t getting the information … Probation didn’t have the tools needed to keep track of them, so we were seeing kids day after day, sometimes in the same day.”

The bill would also allow judges to order that juvenile offenders wear GPS tracking devices and extend the amount of time a minor can be sentenced for serious crimes. It also earmarks an additional $3 million for juvenile crime prevention programs.

But some advocates say Connecticut should be using its budget surplus on programs that target poverty and mental health.

“There are no pieces inside of the bill that actually have investment in young people and communities and families,” said Christina Quaranta, executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance, an advocacy group dedicated to keeping minors out of the criminal justice system. “It is not just something that folks in the advocacy realm say, that we should be investing in young people and that prison doesn’t work. It’s not just a dream that we have. It’s actually research and facts-based.”

The bill had bipartisan support in committee, and Gov. Ned Lamont said at the same news conference Tuesday that he hopes it will be ready for his signature within the next week.