HARTFORD, Connecticut — Legislation that would give a second chance to certain juvenile offenders serving lengthy prison sentences in Connecticut easily cleared the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The bill allows parole hearings for people who were convicted of serious crimes when they were 14 to 17 years old, so long as they served least 12 years in prison or 60 percent of their sentence, whichever is greater. It sets a maximum of 30 years.
The bill passed on a 137-4 vote and now moves to the Senate.
Members of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission recommended the changes in the wake of several recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court required such offenders receive a meaningful opportunity to seek release sometime during their sentence. Last year's ruling in Miller vs. Alabama found that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.
"The Sentencing Commission believed that the best approach to compliance with the Supreme Court decisions was through legislation that considered all implications of those decisions, rather than through years of litigation in the courts," said Judge Joseph Shortall, chairman of the 23-member group, which also includes the chief state's attorney, parole board chairman and defense attorneys.
Both Democrats and Republicans support the bill, which reverses legislation passed in the 1990s when Connecticut was battling gangs that would use teenagers to carry out crimes because they received light sentences.
While lawmakers have heard concerns about the legislation from people who've lost loved ones to homicide, proponents stressed how the legislation does not mean an offender would automatically receive parole or release.
"It merely allows an opportunity for release for these inmates," said Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford. "In fact, the criteria for the granting of this parole is made stricter and is actually quite difficult for these particular people to get the parole."