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Fate of bipartisan juvenile crime reforms appear uncertain

August 10, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The chances of reaching a bipartisan agreement on juvenile justice reforms this summer appeared uncertain Tuesday, with a top Republican in the Connecticut House of Representatives saying talks have “broken down” and how the General Assembly should push ahead with a series of GOP ideas to address car thefts and other crimes being committed by repeat juvenile offenders.

Republican proposals include electronic monitoring for juveniles arrested while awaiting trial on a previous offense, mandatory fingerprinting for certain serious crimes, expedited arraignments for felonies and greater access to juvenile records for law enforcement, among other measures.

Meanwhile, a key House Democrat said he’s still willing to work with Republicans, the minority party in the state’s Democratic controlled General Assembly.

“I was disappointed to hear the House Republicans say discussions have ‘broken down.’ I remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to make our criminal justice system as effective and just as possible,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

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But Stafstrom stressed that “the system is not ‘broken,’” as Republicans have claimed, and that Connecticut’s penal code does not need to be entirely rewritten.

“While there has been a national uptick in car thefts, crime in Connecticut remains at near decades long lows,” Stafstrom said.

Overall, juvenile arrests are at historic lows in Connecticut. However, there were approximately 6,200 care thefts in 2020, which marked an increase of about 250 when compared to 2019. An analysis by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University found the 2020 total was still lower than in 2018.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, the top House Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he believed “talks have broken down” with Democratic lawmakers. He noted major differences of opinion with some who’ve accused the GOP of “manufacturing” a crisis and argue more community programs and mental health services are the answer to help curb brazen juvenile crimes, not stricter punishments.

“The Democrats don’t want solutions here and they continue to blame victims. You constantly hear, ‘lock your cars,’” said Fishbein.

The debate over juvenile criminal justice has stemmed from some highly publicized crimes involving teens, including a jogger in New Britain being struck and killed by a car stolen by a 17-year-old who had been arrested 13 times before on charges including reckless driving and assault. One Democrat, Rep. Jill Barry of Glastonbury, appeared with Republicans at a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol. She said curbing juvenile crime should not be a partisan issue.

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“This is not a party issue to me,” she said. “This is a public safety issue and I stand with my community and my community is demanding action.”

The House GOP has submitted a petition to call the legislature back into special session, but they don’t have enough votes. Fishbein noted that lawmakers have returned to Hartford this summer to vote on recreational marijuana and the COVID-19 pandemic, yet have “ignored the emergency of juvenile justice in this state.”