Raising the Age of Juvenile Court in Connecticut: A Conversation with Dannel P. Malloy

Event Recap

January 25, 2016
By Anamika Dwivedi, MPP 2016

On Monday, January 25, 2016 the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) was honored to welcome Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to HKS for a discussion on his proposed criminal justice reforms. Joining him in the young adult justice-centered conversation was Vincent Schiraldi, a senior research fellow with the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management and co-author of a recent Executive Session on Community Corrections report entitled 'Community-Based Responses to Justice-Involved Young Adults' written by Schiraldi, Bruce Western, and Kendra Bradner.

In the evening after the first classes of spring semester began, students, justice advocates, professors, and practitioners packed the Wiener Auditorium eager to hear from Gov. Malloy, who has been leading Connecticut’s criminal justice reform efforts. Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Malloy has helped usher in a series of reforms including decriminalizing marijuana possession, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, and repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession.

In the wake of these changes, the state’s juvenile crime levels have plummeted and the number of young people incarcerated between the ages of 18 and 21 is at its lowest in more than a quarter-century. It is not surprising then, that Connecticut is now experiencing its lowest crime rate in decades with an incarceration rate that is a third of the US national rate. With a reduced prison population, the state has successfully closed three prisons.

Now, Gov. Malloy is pushing further with recommendations that are in line with findings from psychology and neurobiology. In his conversation with Mr. Schiraldi before a packed room, Gov. Malloy reiterated his position that Connecticut ought to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21.

Findings from psychology and neurobiology confirm that young people’s brains do not fully mature until their mid-20s. Therefore, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction would allow the state to respond to young adults in developmentally appropriate ways and make Connecticut a leading reformer in issues of young adult justice.

Gov. Malloy remarked, “We have a youthful offender statute in Connecticut, why cut it off at 18? If we think it is good enough for a young person, and now that we know to a greater degree what science indicates, why wouldn’t we want to extend it to someone who is 19, 20, 21…? It’s the appropriate thing to do.” He went on to clarify that there would be certain crimes that would be exempt from the higher cut-off age.

Raising the age to 21 is not Gov. Malloy’s only intended reform. Recently, he proposed a package of criminal justice reforms entitled 'Second Chance Society'. These reforms include eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors, closing Connecticut’s juvenile training school, creating a specialized prison unit for veterans, and housing inmates up to age 25 in a separate facility. As part of the Governor’s stated effort to ensure that we “become a society of permanent progress not permanent punishment” these reforms aim to lessen crime in the long run. 

Gov. Malloy says his criminal justice policy efforts are driven by what he learned from his time as a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York. In response to an attendee’s question on how the Governor articulates arguments to help bring prosecutors on the side of reform, Gov. Malloy stated that much of what he learned that summer in Brooklyn was about how unfair the criminal justice system can be, particularly based on race. Toward the end of his response he told the audience, “If we aren’t going to have people who say that [the system is unfair] and hold a mirror to people’s faces, then we’ll be in trouble. And that’s where we’ve been for a long time.”

For Governor Malloy, raising the age will lessen crime in the long run because “if you keep people out of jail when they are young, your chances of keeping them out of jail when they are older increase substantially.”

 

About this Event

In November during his speech at the University of Connecticut Law School, Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed that his state of Connecticut raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction through age 20, and that a separate process be developed for handing cases for defendants and offenders under the age of 25. His proposal mirrors recommendations by Harvard Kennedy School researchers, and if enacted, would make Connecticut the first state in US history to raise the age of juvenile, or family, court jurisdiction beyond age 18.

 

Sponsors

This event was co-sponsored by the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (Harvard Kennedy School), Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy (HKS), Criminal Justice Professional Interest Council (HKS), Criminal Justice Program of Study, Research & Advocacy (Harvard Law School), Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital), Harvard Undergraduate Organization for Prison Education and Reform (HOPE), MassINC, and Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CfJJ).

 

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