Juvenile crime has Shelton reps joining call for return to session

State Reps. Ben McGorty (R-122), right, and Jason Perillo (R-113) were sworn in officially as returning members of the Connecticut state legislature on Jan. 6, during a socially-distanced ceremony on the steps of the State Capitol building in Hartford.

State Reps. Ben McGorty (R-122), right, and Jason Perillo (R-113) were sworn in officially as returning members of the Connecticut state legislature on Jan. 6, during a socially-distanced ceremony on the steps of the State Capitol building in Hartford.

Contributed photo / Contributed photo

Shelton state Reps. Jason Perillo and Ben McGorty are once again pushing for immediate legislative action on the juvenile crime crisis that has gripped communities throughout the state.

The pair and fellow House Republicans — joined by local police chiefs, municipal leaders and citizen activities — officially launched Wednesday a petition effort to bring all state lawmakers into session to implement reforms.

The lawmakers say they are acting now over concerns about the recent spike in repeat juvenile car thefts that in one instance resulted in the death of a pedestrian who was hit by a stolen vehicle.

“Just weeks ago I warned my colleagues that if we did not act immediately, someone was going to get hurt, and someone was going to die,” Perillo said. “I can’t possibly express in words how devastated I am that it has come to this. Peoples’ lives were at stake and now an innocent man has been killed.”

House Republican leaders were among the more than 40 members of the House Republican caucus who attended a news conference at the capitol, where they were joined by chief elected officials and top law enforcement officials from New Britain and Wolcott — the sites of crimes last week that intensified the spotlight on the state’s juvenile justice system.

The crime in New Britain, where a 53-year-old pedestrian was killed when he was struck by a stolen vehicle, raised alarm statewide when it was revealed that a 17-year-old charged in connection with the crime had been arrested 13 times in less than four years.

“When you have an individual go out and commit a car theft that ends in the death of an innocent bystander, that is a serious issue,” McGorty said. “But for that same individual to have been arrested in 13 prior incidents by the age of 17 and still go on to commit a violent offense that results in a tragic loss of life — that’s a big red flag that the laws designed to deter juvenile crime aren’t working.”

Perillo urged those hesitant to act on this to understand this is about accountability.

“We need young people to understand that there are consequences, and we also believe in the role of intervention both at the state, local, and family level,” Perillo said. “I am worried about the residents of Shelton and those across the state. I am worried about local law enforcement who are doing their best to address this very serious problem. And I am worried about teenagers who are also putting themselves in danger.”

“The laws governing our juvenile justice system need to be fixed,” McGorty added, “and there needs to be accountability to the victim of this crime and their family that this situation could have been prevented.”

Perillo asked that those legislators still “on the fence” to work with himself and other Republicans on this issue.

“We can find a solution that works and one that is fair, but we need to do it now,” Perillo said. “No more waiting, because the public is demanding answers.”

In their call for action Wednesday, House Republicans say the General Assembly must enact legislation concerning juveniles who are repeat felony offenders. Among the concepts they say should be considered are:

- Allowing courts to order investigations of family circumstances of repeat offenders, authorizing post-arrest detention if such juveniles are deemed to be risks to public safety;

- Eliminating the six-hour limit on detaining such juveniles without a court order;

- Requiring courts to electronically monitor juveniles charged with stealing a car while they are awaiting trial for car theft until criminal proceedings are resolved.

The governor can also call members of the General Assembly into a special legislative session. While lawmakers can call themselves back to Hartford by petition — a majority of the membership in each chamber, House and Senate, must file petitions with the office of the Secretary of the State.