Parents Speak Up On Proposals To Limit Sentences For Offenders Under 18

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Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford, Conn.

Reizigerin / Flickr

Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford, Conn.

From The Hartford Courant (MCT)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Marco Torres always told his son, Jonathan, ”If you do something wrong, I will turn you in.”

So when detectives knocked on the door of the family’s New Britain home a few years ago looking to talk with Jonathan, then 17, the elder Torres let them in.

“I woke him up and he was a little groggy,” Torres recalled, ”and I said to him, ‘Why are they here?’ He said it was because of a home invasion. Then they put the cuffs on him and took him away.”

Jonathan Torres is now Inmate 372443 at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. He was sentenced to 25 years, to be suspended after 13.

Marco Torres was one of dozens of parents of prisoners who came to the state Capitol complex on Thursday to testify in support of a package of proposals to change sentencing policies for offenders who are under 18.

The Connecticut Sentencing Commission is weighing a number of criminal justice policy changes. One would provide a mechanism for juvenile offenders serving lengthy sentences the chance for parole.

Another would end life in prison without the possibility of release for those who commit the most serious capital crimes. A recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, holds that life sentences for offenders under 18 are unconstitutional and requires states to provide young prisoners with “a meaningful opportunity” to seek release.

A third proposal would tweak an existing statute that adds extra penalties for those convicted of selling drugs within 1,500 feet of a school. Opponents of the current law say it hurts residents of densely populated urban neighborhoods and are pushing for a change that would limit drug-free zones to within 200 feet of the perimeter of the school grounds.

The hearing began around 11 a.m. and stretched on until well after 4 p.m.

Much of the testimony was emotional, as the parents recounted the steep toll their child’s incarceration has taken.

“Do I condone what he’s done? No, I don’t,” said Lori Council of Bridgeport, whose 20-year-old son is five years into a 12-year sentence for robbery. “My heart really goes out to the victims … I just think giving him a second chance will work.”

But the panel also heard from crime victims, including John Cluny, who lost his wife and 14-year-old son when a 15-year-old neighbor entered the family’sNorwich home in 1993 and shot them to death.

Cluny has trekked to the Capitol several times in recent years, but, he said, “I’m 70 years old and this is getting old to me. I’m getting worn out emotionally.”

Garvin Ambrose, the state’s victim advocate, said he is concerned that the legislation proposed by the commission doesn’t adequately address the needs of crime victims.

“Currently I see nothing in this bill that takes the victim’s opinion into consideration,” Ambrose said. While the proposal does allow victims to make a statement to the parole board, they are not given the same advance notice that the state’s attorney and public defenders offices are given.

Supporters of a change in the law note it is not a “get out of jail free” card. It allows youthful offenders the opportunity to seek release, but does not guarantee it.

A bill similar to the one discussed by the commission was raised during the legislative session earlier this year; it was approved by the state House of Representatives but failed to come up for a vote in the state Senate.

Marco Torres, the New Britain man whose son is incarcerated at MacDougall, hopes this is the year. “I do believe he needs to be punished for what he did,” Torres said. “Ten years in prison is, I think, a good punishment, but 25 years is harsh … I see him maturing and I know he’s very remorseful.”


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