Connecticut Senate passes juvenile justice compromise bill, puts state in line with high court

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — The state Senate on Wednesday passed a compromise bill, after two previous failed attempts, which will bring Connecticut in line with two U.S. Supreme Court rulings addressing lengthy prison sentences for juvenile offenders.

Senators voted 31-5 in favor of legislation that provides youths with 10-year or longer sentences a parole hearing, where they can demonstrate having matured since committing their crimes. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for final legislative action.

"What this bill does not do is guarantee that anyone will be released from incarceration," said Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee. "Rather, the bill provides an opportunity for a person who committed an offense at less than 18 years of age to appear before a board of parole and receive the benefit of scientific and psychological evidence concerning child brain development during that hearing."

Similar versions of the bill failed in two prior legislative sessions. On Wednesday, senators agreed to amend the bill with language requiring the Connecticut Sentencing Commission to study how crime victims may be notified of the parole eligibility laws, among other changes.

A previous opponent of the bill, Enfield Sen. John Kissel, the ranking Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee, praised the compromise which persuaded him and others to ultimately support the bill. He also said giving someone a chance for possible parole could help reduce recidivism, giving young offenders a reason to rehabilitate themselves while in prison.

"That does not mean we're not tough on crime, it means we're smart on crime," he said.

The bill also retroactively eliminates life sentences for capital felony and arson murder, and convictions for murder with special circumstances for offenders who committed the crimes when they were juveniles. Additionally, criminal courts would be required to consider certain mitigating factors of youth when sentencing young offenders for certain felonies.

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