A bill that would prevent juvenile offenders from being shackled in courtrooms got some support from Washington last week from Connecticut’s junior senator.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy sent a letter Thursday expressing his support for the measure to members of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Judiciary, and said he would be seeking similar regulations at the federal level.
“Our judicial system works on the presumption of innocence, but sending a child into a courtroom in chains sends a clear message not just to court officials but to the kid in question: we view you as a threat and a hardened criminal, even before you’ve been found guilty,” Murphy said when asked about his support for the bill. “And for better or worse, kids often live up to the expectations we have for them.”
Murphy, in his letter to members of the Judiciary Committee, said the national trend is away from a standard of restraint for youthful offenders.
“Most states, including Connecticut, still allow the indiscriminate shackling of young people in their juvenile courtrooms, but this is changing rapidly,” he wrote. “There is an emerging national consensus that indiscriminate juvenile shackling is an indefensible practice.”
The proposal as it is currently written would prohibit the use of mechanical restraints with juvenile offenders unless a judge deems it necessary, but Murphy suggested strengthening the language.
In his letter to committee members, Murphy suggested that the bill be altered to prohibit shackling unless “there are no less restrictive alternatives to restraints that will prevent flight or physical harm to the child or another person, including, but not limited to, the presence of court personnel, law enforcement officers, or bailiffs.”
In Murphy’s version of the bill, a juvenile offender’s attorney would have the opportunity argue against their use and, if restraints are ordered, “the court shall make findings of fact in support of the order.”
Connecticut’s Judicial Branch, under the leadership of Bernadette Conway, the state’s chief administrative judge for juvenile matters, instituted a policy as of April 1 that encourages the use of shackles and other kinds of mechanical restraints only when there is a need to protect the safety of those in the courtroom.
But policy can be altered, according to supporters of the measure, whereas legislation requires the consent of elected officials.
“Policies come and go,” Susan Story, Connecticut’s chief public defender, told committee members during a public hearing on the bill. “We really feel it needs the stamp of approval from the legislature to have the effect statewide.”
Murphy, in his letter to members of the Judiciary Committee, said that Connecticut’s proposed measure, H.B. 7050, can be a model on the national stage.
Murphy said he intends to advocate for an update to the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), “the landmark statute that sets federal standards to protect youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.”
“I believe that one of the critical elements of a new JJDPA will be the inclusion of standards related to youth shackling, and I am hopeful that Connecticut will once again prove to be a leader and a model that I can point to in my work at the federal level,” he wrote.
South Carolina, Alaska, and the state of Washington already have adopted legislation prohibiting the indiscriminate use of shackles for juvenile offenders.
Blumenthal, Murphy, Esty React to Iran Nuclear Deal Progress
News that the groundwork has been laid for a deal that would prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon evoked responses from several members of Connecticut’s delegation in Washington.
The announced framework would lift sanctions on Iran placed by both the United States and the European Union, when and if the United Nations verifies that the Iranian government has come through on its guarantees to maintain a purely civilian nuclear program.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal remained positive about the progress made thus far, but said Congress must have a role moving forward.
‘“This framework may reflect progress toward stopping a nuclear-armed Iran — a vital national interest — but it must be carefully reviewed and assessed,” he said. “I continue to hope for diplomatic efforts that lead to a final agreement that is airtight, comprehensive, enduring, and strictly verifiable. I will advocate that Congress have an appropriate role in scrutinizing this framework and any final agreement.”
Sen. Murphy said that opponents should come to the table with another viable option if they intend to criticize.
“Those who are critical of today’s framework have the responsibility to present a serious, credible alternative that would get us to our ultimate goal: achieving a nuclear-free Iran in a way that doesn’t require another war in the Middle East.”
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said the ultimate goal of preventing a nuclearized Iran must remain the priority.
“I urge my colleagues in Congress and the Obama administration to work together in a united approach, combining aggressive economic sanctions and smart diplomacy to build international pressure and, ultimately, prevent a nuclear Iran in the most effective, peaceful means possible,” she said.
Bill Would Allow Student Loan Refinancing
Two members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation have introduced a measure that would cut down interest rates for many people paying off student debt.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, have introduced H.R. 1434, called the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow borrowers paying off student loans to refinance those loans to the current federal interest rate of 3.86 percent. According to the Institute for College Access & Success, an advocacy group based in California, some student loan borrowers pay interest rates higher than 7.
A release issued by Esty said that there are 309,000 student borrowers in Connecticut.
“Unfortunately, students and college graduates are putting their dreams on hold because of crushing loan debt,” Esty said in a release. “While there’s much more we must do, reducing existing student debt is a good first step to making college more affordable and accessible for all middle-class families.”
A similar bill never made it to a vote in the Republican-controlled House last year.