A package of juvenile justice reforms was signed into law by Governor Malloy yesterday. The bill eliminates mandatory sentences of life without a chance of parole for children, requires judges to consider youth-related factors in sentencing children convicted in adult court and provides parole eligibility rules tailored for juveniles serving lengthy prison sentences.

David McGuire, Legislative and Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said, “Children and adults are simply not the same and therefore the system shouldn’t treat them as such. This law is a step toward ensuring more sensible treatment of children involved in the criminal justice system. We also hope it will reduce the stark and deeply disturbing racial disparities among children serving lengthy prison sentences in Connecticut.”

Information provided by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance reveals that 94 percent of those serving longer than 12 years in prison and 97 percent of those serving longer than 50 years, for crimes committed as children, are African American or Latino. In addition, 100 hundred percent of juvenile offenders serving more than 12 years in cases from New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport are African American or Hispanic, according to the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance.

White young offenders only account for 6 percent of juveniles serving sentences of more than 12 years and 3 percent of those serving more than 50 years, despite the fact that white people make up 71 percent of the state population.

Eliminating mandatory sentences of life without a chance of parole for children will bring Connecticut into line with the United States Supreme Court jurisprudence and reflect new evidence about adolescent brain development.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for children under the age of 18 at the time of their crime violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court specifically noted juveniles’ “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform.” The Court has made unquestionably clear that children are different than adults and that difference must be reflected in how courts sentence children in adult court.