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Panel Hears Comment On Juvenile Sentences

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File photo of a jail cell. (Photo by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via Getty Images)

File photo of a jail cell. (Photo by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via Getty Images)

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SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Friends and family of juvenile offenders urged the Connecticut Sentencing Commission on Thursday to resurrect a proposal to change state law and allow those with long jail sentences a chance at parole.

Numerous relatives and friends of inmates appeared at a public hearing to speak in favor of the proposed legislation, which got held up during last year’s legislative session and died.

“He does want to change,” Lori Council of Bridgeport said of her son Devante Pickett, who was 15 years old when he was first arrested on robbery charges. “He wants a second chance at life to be a better person.”

The commission is next scheduled to meet Dec. 19 to finalize its recommendations to the General Assembly for consideration in the new session, which begins in February.

Last year’s bill was in response to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutionality of adult sentences for juveniles who commit serious crimes. In some cases those sentences are life terms without chance for parole. The high court said “because juveniles have lessened culpability, they are less deserving of the most severe punishments,” pointing to studies on brain development that show how youths lack maturity, are more susceptible to outside influences and don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.

After being amended by the House of Representatives, last year’s bill in Connecticut would have made someone eligible for parole if they were sentenced up to 60 years and served the greater of 12 years or 60 percent of the sentence. Among other things, the bill also required a criminal court judge to consider certain factors when sentencing someone between the ages of 14 and 18 for various felonies, such as evidence of recklessness, impulsivity, and risk-taking tendencies.

While there was consensus among commission members last year to forward their recommendations to the General Assembly, State Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose said he has problems with the legislation this time and wants a working group to revisit the language.

“Currently, I see nothing in this bill that even takes in the victim’s opinions,” he said.

John Cluny of Norwich, whose wife and son were murdered by a teen in 1993, said the panel should make a distinction between teens who may have made a dumb mistake and gotten mixed up with a bad crowd versus someone who committed premeditated murder.

“My case is so premeditated, it doesn’t warrant reconsideration,” he said. “I think he understood very well. I don’t think he gave a damn.”

Besides juvenile sentencing, the commission is also considering whether to resurrect two other proposals. One involves changing the state’s drug-free zone laws, which impose greater penalties for people found with illegal drugs near schools, licensed daycare centers and public housing projects. Because current law calls for a 1,500-foot zone, an entire urban area can be subjected to the enhanced penalty. The commission is considering recommending the law be changed to have the zone within 200 feet of a school’s perimeter.

The other proposal would create a certification of rehabilitation program to show potential employers and landlords that an inmate is now considered rehabilitated.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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