Juvenile Justice Forum Brings Attention To Local ‘Uptick In Crime’
Members of Newtown’s legislative delegation along with an informed guest hosted a free virtual Juvenile Justice Forum online for the public on January 24. Roughly two dozen people logged on along with The Newtown Bee.
The webcast forum was in response to many residents expressing concerns about the rise of juvenile crime, and more specifically, the increase in motor vehicle theft.
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky, State Representative Tony Scott, and State Senator Tony Hwang were accompanied by attorney and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee State Representative Craig Fishbein to present data, explore possible solutions, and engage constituents.
Newtown Chief of Police James Viadero also joined the session to offer additional statistics and insight specific to the community.
Bolinsky started off the forum stating, “Everyone is aware of the fact that there’s an uptick in crime and a lot of it is coming from the juvenile sector.”
He emphasized that he wanted to make sure the public was able to contribute their thoughts during the discussion and asked that everyone put their questions in the chat function of the meeting.
“There won’t be any questions that go unanswered tonight,” Bolinsky said.
One of the first points Fishbein shared was what defines a child as a juvenile in the eyes of the legal system.
“Originally, there was no minimum age. It was officer discretion,” he said.
A minimum age of 7 years old was established to be considered a juvenile, then in 2021 the law raised the age to 10 years old.
On the other end of the spectrum, the maximum age of a juvenile has changed over the years, as well. Since July 1, 2012, the law states that it is a person under the age of 16 at the time of the commission of any offense and any 16- or 17-year-old charged with certain offenses.
Fishbein explained that as of 2015, the minimum age for a juvenile to be eligible to be transferred to adult court was raised from 14 to 15.
“So right now, any 14-year-old charged with a crime in Connecticut cannot be transferred to adult court no matter the severity of the crime,” he said.
Additionally, legislature moved most class B felonies to the discretionary transfer statue.
According to the Connecticut Penal Code, a class B felony in Connecticut includes, but is not limited to, crimes of manslaughter, assault, sexual assault, enticing a minor, and burglary.
As for the topic of juvenile detainment, Fishbein said there is a standard for that, too, that has gone through many stages.
Fishbein’s slideshow detailed that in January 2017, a juvenile could be detained when:
“A) There is probable cause to believe the child has committed acts alleged,
“B) There is no less restrictive alternative available, and
“C) One of the following: a strong probability that the child will commit other offenses injurious to the community, probable cause to believe that the child’s continued residence in the child’s home poses a risk [to] the community because of the serious and dangerous nature of the acts the child is alleged to have committed, a need to hold the child for another jurisdiction, the child has failed to respond to the court process.”
He explained that this list eliminated previous points, including that the child had a strong probability to run away, that the child posed a risk to themselves, and that the child had violated the conditions of release.
For the latter, Fishbein explained, “Prior to 2017, if they violated [an] order from the judge, a subsequent judge could say, ‘You’re going to be detained until your trial, because you violated the conditions of release.’”
However, he added, “From there it started to strip down even more.”
As of July 1, 2018, present requirements to place a juvenile in detention are:
“A) There is probable cause to believe the child has committed acts alleged,
“B) There is no appropriate less restrictive alternative available, and
“C) One of the following: probable cause to believe the level of risk the child will pose to public safety if released to the community prior to the court hearing or disposition cannot be managed in a less restrictive setting; a need to hold the child in order to ensure the child’s appearance before the court, or compliance with court process, as demonstrated by the child’s previous failure to respond to the court process; or a need to hold the child for another jurisdiction.”
With that in mind, Fishbein said, “In 2018 there were some additional changes. A provision was put in place that a juvenile could not be held in excess of six hours without one of those detention orders.”
He stressed that the public should also be aware that, in 2018, the Connecticut Juvenile Training Services (CJTS) was closed – a $59 million building that he said taxpayers paid for and is no longer being used for anything today.
“As a result of CJTS being closed, generally the result is that committed juveniles were released home or placed in staff-secure unlocked facilities,” Fishbein said.
Fishbein shared a graph showing the rate of violent crime offenses by population in the United States, which remained consistent over the years, compared to Connecticut. It showed violent crimes in Connecticut are actually going down.
“Violent crime is such things as murder, rape, assault, sexual assault — those kinds of physical contact crimes. They don’t take into consideration here property crimes or other crimes that don’t involve that intent to do physical harm to a human being,” he said.
Fishbein then showed a graph of the rate of property crime offenses by population in the United States compared to Connecticut. While the United States is seeing a decrease, Connecticut’s line dips then has a “dramatic increase.”
The following chart took a further look at the most updated data from state police about the age groups committing those crimes. It shows a decrease in arrests of adults 18 years old and older, but an increase in those younger than age 18.
“In 2010, when that data starts, there were 667 arrests for motor vehicle theft and 143 of these arrests were juveniles.” Fishbein said.
By 2020, there were 669 arrests for motor vehicle theft — barely any increase from a decade prior. He reported of those total arrests, 245 were of juveniles and that is a 70% increase from 2010.
Fishbein also clarified, “Statistically the arrests of anyone stealing a motor vehicle in Connecticut is quite low. We call those arrests ‘the clearance rate’ … that is calculated as there is a complaint, there is an identified perpetrator, there is an arrest of that individual, that case gets disposed of somehow. What percent of the total complaints are cleared? That’s about 7% — a very low percentage.”
He went on to say that Connecticut has “four times the national average of motor vehicle thefts.”
Police Chief’s Insight
Viadero voiced that he agrees with the data Fishbein presented and that “over the course of the last year the stolen car problem, I think, is the most prevalent problem we’ve been dealing with in the State of Connecticut.”
In some cases, he says, car thefts and car break-ins have turned “very violent.”
Recently, Newtown police worked in conjunction with the Bridgeport Police Department to get state funding for three months to work on the stolen car problem.
“Some of the results that we saw were astounding as far as the number of vehicles that we recovered, the number of vehicles that were stolen, [and] the arrests that we made,” Viadero said. “The biggest benefit I think that we received in that three-month period, that ceased December 31, was the intelligence that we gathered.”
He explained that they found that juveniles were stealing cars and bringing them to larger municipalities, such as Bridgeport, New Haven, and Danbury, and then the cars were being used by other individuals for different crimes.
“We recovered 123 stolen vehicles out of the 105 that were reported in that area; we made 11 juvenile arrests for various offenses [including] driving a stolen vehicle, being in possession of a weapon, or committing some type of other crime; we made 63 adult arrests, which is a large number; we recovered 22 firearms; and in 12 incidents we recovered narcotics,” Viadero reported.
As law enforcement, he finds that what is extremely troubling is that a large portion of the stolen vehicles were being used to help commission a violent crime.
“In 2021, we had 16 motor vehicles stolen in Newtown … for us it is concerning because it was an increase from prior years,” Viadero said.
One of the Newtown vehicles was used for attempted murder in a drive-by shooting in Bridgeport.
Viadero said that the three-month initiative was very successful and that gaining intelligence to see trends is crucial for officers.
“It’s an issue that needs to be looked at further,” he said regarding car thefts and break-ins.
Bolinsky, Scott, and Hwang thanked Viadero and Fishbein for their reports and their service to the community.
The Juvenile Justice Forum concluded with a Q&A session with the public.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.