Republicans in the Connecticut State Senate unveiled a 16-page plan to fight what State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R-21) labeled a “spike in crime” across the state. But Democrats are criticizing the plan, which would involve lowering the age at which children can be tried in adult courts.

The plan, unveiled on Oct. 13, is broken into three parts: prevention and opportunity, crime response and supporting police and safe communities. The plan aims to lower the barriers to charging juveniles in adult court, increase access to professional development for high schoolers and roll back changes in qualified immunity and consent searches that were parts of the police accountability reform bill in Connecticut last year. According to Kelly, the plan was created in consultation with “social workers and public defenders, prosecutors, police officers, nonprofits, community leaders, church leaders” to ensure that it was crafted in a way that would “give kids an alternative [to crime].” 

“This plan came into being after we started to see a lot of troubling crime [like violent crime, auto theft, carjacking, murder or abduction] in our news media,” Kelly said. “However, rather than just come out with a simple criminal justice proposal from underneath the Capitol dome, we went out to stakeholders.” 

However, Iliana Pujols, the policy director for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, disputed Kelly’s claim that the Republican plan represented the interests of various shareholders interviewed.

The CTJA and Connecticut House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D-9) also had other issues with the crime response portion of the proposal. The plan includes streamlining juvenile detention, mandating mandatory fingerprinting for class A felonies and lowering the barriers for children to be charged in adult court. It also increases GPS monitoring for youth who are charged with violent crimes or are repeat offenders, tracking them 24/7 instead of the current 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tracking system.

Both Rojas and Pujols said that GPS tracking would be too expensive, and Pujols also said that increasing GPS monitoring and fingerprinting would further the criminalization of children. “How easy and how often do kids get reintegrated into the system because of a technical violation?” Pujols said.

The proposal would also lower the age at which children can be tried in adult courts from 15 to 14. Furthermore, the plan would change the wording of current Connecticut statute so that state judges would no longer have to take into account both the best interests of society and the child in question, but only the best interest of society. 

“Any kid in jail is not really in their best interest,” Kelly said. “So it becomes very hard for courts to even look at putting any child or youth in jail. And so you got to be able to separate and allow it to be in the court’s discretion. [We’re] giving the court that discretion that if there is an individual who needs to be held accountable, that that opportunity or that alternative is there for the court system to to use.” 

Senate Republicans hope that these changes will help hold more children who commit serious crimes accountable while also ensuring that people who come “in contact with the criminal justice system” are getting “the services they need for support,” according to Kelly.

But Rojas criticized these changes, saying that the Republicans were setting up the “entire system for failure.” Specifically, he criticized the new changes that would put more kids in the adult system. He said their brains are not fully developed, and thus they should largely be shielded from the adult system.

“We’re talking about 14 to 15 and 16 year olds, which is a pretty far distance from 25, in terms of brain development,” Rojas said. “So I think trying to respond with adult solutions, I think is really misguided, and will result in the kind of outcomes that we’ve seen for the last 20-30 years, which is really setting up an entire generation of young men, in particular, African American men for failure. 

The CTJA has serious concerns about the proposal “removing the perspective of children throughout the process,” according to Brittany Lamarr, a justice advisor for the organization. 

While the first portion of the Republican plan faced criticism from Rojas and the CTJA, they were more supportive of the second portion of the bill, which focuses on dealing with the root causes of crime in Connecticut.

In the policy proposal, the Republicans write that they want to “broaden [the] conversations to address the root cause of rising crime.”

The second part of the plan calls for an increased investment into Connecticut’s economically struggling communities alongside an increase in the amount of exposure students have to vocational and trade programs. 

Rojas said that this aspect of the plan is a step forward for Republicans in the state, labeling it as “finally acknowledgement” that the state needs to look at crime in a systematic way rather than with “knee-jerk reactions.”

The second part of the Republican plan also advocates for improving access to affordable housing throughout the state by reforming Title 8 vouchers. However, Rojas suggested that the move was hypocritical.

“They are the number one party that does everything to fight any kind of movement on addressing housing policy and addressing poverty and addressing residential, racial and economic segregation,” he said.

Overall, CTJA welcomed the change in tone by Republicans in the second portion of this document. Pujols said that she was glad that there “was finally a conversation on investment.” But she added that the authors do not know the realities that kids are facing throughout the state.

The Connecticut General Assembly will reconvene in February 2022 for its regular session, when Senate Republicans plan on introducing this proposal as a bill to the legislature. According to Kelly, no General Assembly Democrats have reached out about discussions on the proposal as of Friday night.

The General Assembly Democrats are ready to negotiate with their colleagues across the aisle, according to Rojas; however, he did question the seriousness of the proposal because it was unveiled by Senate Republicans without their House counterparts.

The Connecticut General Assembly sits in Hartford and during even-numbered years it meets from February to May, while in odd-numbered years it meets from January to June. 

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.