Chris Powell

Republican Senators Leave Juvenile Court Unaccountable

Success in politics is often believed to require making a lot of noise purporting to address issues without really doing anything about them, since doing anything might upset people invested in the status quo. Introducing their juvenile crime proposals last week, the state Senate’s Republican minority followed this formula.

The juvenile crime issue exploded in Connecticut in June when a man jogging on a sidewalk in New Britain, Henryk Gudelski, was run down and killed by a stolen car apparently driven by a 17-year-old boy who had been arrested 13 times in the last 3½ years. Though some of the charges were serious, the boy had remained free. Since then the juvenile crime issue has been intensified by a rash of car thefts and even shootings committed by juveniles.

The Republican senators argue that more offenses charged against juveniles should qualify for transfer from juvenile court, which is secret, to adult court, which is public and can impose heavier sentences. But this would leave discretion with juvenile court — the same discretion that, in the New Britain case, piled arrest upon arrest without any accountability to the public.

The Republican senators would allow juvenile offenders to be detained for more than six hours when arrested. But not having gotten a trial, such juveniles will be released soon anyway. This wouldn’t be adjudication, and any greater safety would be temporary.

The Republican senators propose 24-hour electronic monitoring of juveniles charged with violent crime who are already awaiting trial on other charges. But this presumes that chronic young offenders should remain free indefinitely, as in the New Britain case. That also makes no one safer.

The Republican senators propose next-day arraignments for juvenile offenders. But an arraignment doesn’t resolve a case. The teen in the New Britain case probably had many arraignments before Gudelski was killed.

And then the Republican senators propose what seems obligatory prattle in discussions of juvenile crime: a lot more social work for juveniles.

Like everything else lately suggested about juvenile crime in Connecticut, the Republican proposals miss the crucial point. That is, no purported reforms could be evaluated in the future any more than anything in juvenile justice can be evaluated now unless the whole system was made public, as the state Constitution requires when it proclaims that “all courts shall be open.” The problem is that state government long has been violating the Constitution without being held to account.

Indeed, the General Assembly could enact any law about juvenile justice and still never be sure it was being followed unless juvenile courts were opened to the public just like other courts. That’s why the Republican proposals are meaningless. They brought the senators some publicity without threatening to exact any accountability from the juvenile justice system.

So now everyone is happy.

Reform requires accountability and should start with a public investigation by the legislature of the many cases involving the teen charged with killing Gudelski as well as the cases of the many other chronic juvenile offenders. The legislature’s Democratic majority, the party of social work, doesn’t want any case investigated, and now even the Republican senators have forgotten Gudelski’s name.

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SECRECY COSTS $705,000: While secrecy in juvenile justice is costing lives, secrecy in city government has just cost Meriden $705,000.

According to the Meriden Record-Journal, that’s how much the City Council has agreed to pay former City Manager Guy Scaife to settle his federal lawsuit charging that he was wrongfully fired four years ago in retaliation for alerting the council to improper expenses the council turned out to want to conceal. An audit of those expenses is said to have been commissioned but no results have been announced.

Scaife charged that in violation of Connecticut’s open-government law, the council’s Democratic and Republican caucuses met secretly about concealing the expenses.

While the council denies Scaife’s charges, $705,000 is far more than a nuisance settlement. Obviously the council set out to hide wrongdoing and, in paying Scaife so much to go away and avoid a trial, plans to keep hiding it.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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