Two bills that would change the way Connecticut sentences juveniles convicted of serious crimes are making their way through the legislature. As WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, they come in response to U-S Supreme Court rulings that say treating young people like adults could violate the constitution. The proposed bills come with the recommendation of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission -- a mix of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections officials and others. And both of them deal with the lengthy adult sentences imposed on juveniles and hinge on the idea that kids are different than adults, and should be treated that way. One is called house bill 6581. For those people in prison serving lengthy sentences for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18, this bill would give them a second-look. That means it would mandate a parole hearing after a good portion of their sentences had been served. Sarah Russell is a law professor at the Quinnipiac School of Law.
"The parole board would hear from victims, would hear from prosecutors, would hear from the Department of Correction. It would consider whether this person could safely be released. So, it' not a get out of jail for free card. It's just an opportunity for a hearing and a second look." The second bill would impact sentences going forward. If passed, senate bill 1062 would eliminate mandatory life without parole sentences for people who committed certain crimes as juveniles. In short, it would give a judge more discretion. Again, Sarah Russell. "The judge could still sentence you to what is effectively a life sentence. But it would no longer be a mandatory life sentence." Matt Ritter is a Democratic state representative from Hartford on the judiciary committee. He supports both bills. "With all the new studies and all the new science out there, there's a realization that teenagers -- particularly under the age of 18 -- just are different than people who are 25, 26, 27 and so on." The bills passed the judiciary committee by nearly 2-1 votes. Ritter says some Democrats and Republicans who opposed the bills fear the state is getting soft on crime. Next will be consideration by both houses of the legislature.