The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association has a weak argument for opposing a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system.
In testimony before the General Assembly's select committee on children, the organization's legislative liaison, West Hartford Police Chief James J. Strillacci, argued that arranging to have parents present when a suspect is questioned, as required for juveniles, would waste valuable time and manpower.
Municipalities, he contended, would have to expand their holding cell capacity to accommodate the larger population of juvenile inmates, which in many cases would create a financial hardship. Treating 16- and 17-year-old suspects as juveniles might also increase the juvenile court caseload by 60 percent.
No one said the change would be easy. The interests of justice, however, demand that it be done.
Connecticut is one of only three states in the country that treats suspects between the ages of 16 and 18 as adult criminals regardless of the offense. Research shows that placing teens in adult prisons does not deter crime. On the contrary, youths incarcerated with adults are several times more likely to commit additional crimes or commit suicide than they would be if sentenced to juvenile facilities.
Only about 5 percent of youths who serve prison time as adults commit the types of serious, violent crimes that led legislators to lower the age of adulthood to 16 in the first place. Most of the rest would be better off in one of the mental health or supportive alternative-to-incarceration programs that have proven records of reducing recidivism among youths under the age of 16.
Police chiefs would do better to support raising the age for adult criminals - except in rare cases of extremely violent acts. The state, of course, would have an obligation to provide funds for police to handle the additional workload.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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