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Connecticut Republicans Targeting Juvenile Repeat Offenders For Special Session

Rep. Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) says violent crime by young Connecticut repeat offenders demonstrates that the local criminal justice system is broken, and he says he wants a special session to fix it.
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Rep. Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) says violent crime by young Connecticut repeat offenders demonstrates that the local criminal justice system is broken, and he says he wants a special session to fix it.

Local Republican lawmakers say juvenile crime is so bad in Connecticut that the general public is in danger, and they’re calling for a special session targeting repeat offenders.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree a problem exists, but they are split on how to solve it.

The side in favor of a special session has been prompted to act by circumstances surrounding the death of Henryk Gudelski, 53. He was killed in a hit-and-run last week in New Britain.

Mayor Erin Stewart said the 17-year-old driver was a repeat offender.

“He was hit by a vehicle that was stolen by a young man who had been arrested 13 times prior and went out and stole another vehicle and killed an innocent man,” Stewart said.

Republican lawmakers, led by House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford), believe the recent closure of a state juvenile detention center and the fact that the courts consider Connecticut residents juveniles until they’re 18 foster an environment where young people are motivated to break the law.

But calls for a special session may also be motivated by last year’s passage of a police accountability law.

“Once the law was passed, we’ve made no attempt to evaluate the impacts of those laws, so our police officers don’t have the ability to necessarily do their job,” Candelora said.

Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport) said recent juvenile criminal activity is a concern. But he believes it’s pandemic-driven and doesn’t have anything to do with police reform.

Last year, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin attributed a spike in crime in his city to the pandemic when he suggested the state offer lower bonds to offenders so that local jails wouldn’t be crowded in a time when social distancing was important. Stewart blamed a rash of car break-ins in her city at the time on the courts as well.

Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy reports that there were at least 2,000 more automobile thefts in 2020 than in 2019, a crime that had been trending downward in Connecticut since 1991.

Stafstrom believes any solution to juvenile crime should address an offender’s actions in between the arrest and adjudication.

“I think there’s general agreement we need to get services to these kids earlier on when they’re arrested in order to hopefully cut down on that arrest,” Stafstrom said. “The question is ‘how you do it while protecting due process.’”

Stafstrom and Connecticut House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) aren’t committing to a special session.

“A scalpel approach as opposed to a sledgehammer to some of our statutes, some clarifications, some things that can be done administratively, some might require statutory changes to try to address a situation that we’ve read about where you might have individuals that have been arrested five or six times for what we consider pretty serious crimes that lead to something obviously terrible or tragic,” Ritter said.

Instead, Stafstrom’s judiciary committee may be the next entity to take on this issue. Stafstrom said his committee would soon begin researching ways to tweak current laws in order to stem juvenile crime.

One tweak it’ll consider would be to allow judges to access certain information on an arrestee outside of office hours that would allow them to identify repeat offenders.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Frankie Graziano joined CPBN in October of 2011 as a sports producer. In addition to reporting for WNPR, Graziano produces feature profiles for CPTV and the web.