In a meeting Monday with three young men who were involved with the juvenile justice system before turning their lives around, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked what he should be doing to help.
“What advice do you have for me?” Malloy asked the trio at their home on Asylum Avenue in Hartford.
None of the youth, who were in their 20s, offered much in the way of advice, but each credited the Journey for Life program — funded by the Department of Children and Families — for helping them improve the quality of their lives.
Johnnie Knighton said the Department of Children and Families helped him find the program, but there was an adjustment period. He said the program helped him become an independent person who actually enjoys getting up and going to school.
In order to live in the house, the boys have to be enrolled in an educational program or have a job. They also have to follow an 11 p.m. curfew on weekdays. They are required to clean their rooms.
Knighton studies auto mechanics at Porter and Chester Institute in Rocky Hill. Raymond Fletcher also attends Porter and Chester and wants to be a computer network administrator.
One of the youth who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting because he just landed a job at Hartford Hospital said he wanted Malloy to know that because of a felony when he was younger, he’s had a hard time finding employment.
“Because of a felony when he was younger, he’s had great difficulty in finding a job,” Debra Collins, a DCF program manager, told Malloy. “His message to you was going to be to focus on that.”
Fortunately, the young man had gone to Hartford Hospital for orientation on Monday and they asked him to stay for his first day of employment, Collins said.
“We’ve gotta get outside ourselves a little bit and with people who have lost their way temporarily, help them find their way back,” Malloy said. “Sometimes the difference between a life-changing experience and not being caught is very small.”
Malloy said the second phase of his “Second Chance Society” initiative is about trying to make sure juveniles don’t “needlessly end up with records.” Secondly, it’s about trying to help those who do end up with a criminal record get them cleaned them up so that they can succeed.
On Nov. 6 , Malloy announced that he wanted to raise the age for those considered juveniles from 17 to 20, as well as allow low-risk young adults ages 21 through 25 have their cases heard confidentially and their records sealed.
Malloy is expected to formally propose the changes during the 2016 legislative session, which is scheduled to start Feb. 3.
The program Malloy visited Monday in Hartford houses nine youth ages 18 to 23 in two locations.
Officials from the Department of Children and Families said there are six programs like the one in Hartford, which helps 18- to 23-year-olds in different parts of the state. That’s on top of the numerous other traditional group homes.
Will there be more of these community-based facilities in the future as the state works to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School by July 1, 2018?
Malloy said the problem with government is “we’re more likely to re-create our mistakes than we are our successes.”
He said that even though the model of the Journey for Life program has been around for awhile, the state hasn’t previously invested in it to the extent that it should have. Malloy said he’s interested in investing in the program.
Will there be more resources to do that when the Connecticut Juvenile Training School closes?
Malloy said the facility is currently staffed to accept more youth than are currently being housed there, so he believes that when it closes there will be dollars available to reinvest in other ways.
The labor unions representing the more than 350 employees at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School issued a statement on Friday following a private meeting between Malloy and several dozen union members. They advocated for a “thoughtful plan” in closing the facility, which costs about $53 million a year to operate.
“Any plan by the state must prevent our students from being sent to Connecticut’s prison for Juvenile offenders, placed into private sector programs which are not prepared for these students, or returned without support to an unchanged situation where they originally got into trouble,” union officials said in a statement. “We care about our students and we need to ensure that their needs are being met throughout this process.”