HARTFORD, CT– After meeting Thursday with a grieving family, Gov. Ned Lamont appeared to call for stricter policies to curb juvenile crime during an afternoon event outside the state Capitol building.
The governor did not take questions after making a statement, in which he generally advocated more support services, more efficient court policies, and, in some cases, more stringent penalties for child offenders.
“I’d like to think the crime rate’s going to continue to go down, but it is not enough,” Lamont said. “I just heard the most heartrending story you can imagine from a mom and a grandmother whose kid was doing well, whose kid was about to go to an amazing high school, play football, was all set and ready to go in 30 days. A good kid who got in the back seat of the wrong car.”
Behind the governor, stood the family of a 14-year-old Hamden boy who died this week from a shooting. He was dropped off at a Waterbury hospital Monday with a head wound. During his remarks, Lamont spoke for the mother who did not directly address reporters. He said the boy’s mother wished her son had more outlets available, especially during the COVID pandemic. Lamont said she also wished the criminal justice system had been stricter.
“I wish the system had just been a little bit stricter,” Lamont said and turned to look at the family, “I think I have that right. That I wish the probation had been a little stronger after his first offense getting in the wrong car, I wish that the ankle bracelet had GPS so it didn’t just track when somebody left the house but tracked where they went.”
The event was scheduled late in the day and also included James Rovella, commissioner of public safety, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, a former police officer, as well as Andrew Woods, executive director of Hartford Communities that Care, and Jacquelyn Santiago CEO of COMPASS Youth Collaborative
Rovella and O’Leary both spoke of a need to adjust Connecticut’s criminal justice system for minors. O’Leary said roughly 20 offenders in Waterbury were responsible for about 80% of the city’s crime.
“The juvenile justice system, you know, it needs tweaking,” O’Leary said.
Woods and Santiago said the problem could be addressed by investments in communities and support services. Woods called on Lamont and the legislature to dedicate the resources.
“Folks, these parents want to make sure there’s opportunity out there, that their children, their families are safe and the resources are there. Until we make those investments and stop with the BS — until we make those investments we’re going to keep seeing, unfortunately, situations like this,” Woods said. “Let’s stop playing games. Governor, make the dog-gone investments. Legislature, make the changes that need to be made to make sure people get the supports they need.”
Thursday’s event is the latest in an ongoing public debate between Republicans, who have called for special legislative sessions to change juvenile justice laws, and criminal justice advocates and Democrats who say Connecticut’s policies are not the root of crime trends experienced throughout the entire country.
During his remarks, the governor seemed amenable to some of the policy changes Republicans have been advocating including changes to GPS monitoring for youth offenders. After the event, a spokesman for Lamont said he was not suggesting the legislature convene for a special session.
“The message here is we have existing tools that we need to take advantage of,” Max Reiss, the governor’s spokesman, said. “If we have the tools and they’re in place and there’s a system in place to utilize them and they’re not being utilized then that’s something that is not ok with Governor Lamont.”
However, Republican leaders in both chambers of the legislature issued statements Thursday evening renewing their push for policy changes. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said he thought Lamont had little choice but to call lawmakers into session.
“It’s sad that it took months, and the loss of another life, for the governor to finally acknowledge both the seriousness and depth of this crisis,” Candelora said. “We’ll have to wait and see what the governor and law enforcement officials know about the tragic death of this teenager, but the fact that during a news conference he even mentioned Republican concepts as he stood alongside people demanding reform to our juvenile justice system should send a clear signal to legislative Democrats.”
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly encouraged Lamont to read a set of proposals which he and other Republicans pitched earlier this month.
“The Governor can no longer turn a blind eye to the rise in violent crime and the outcry from communities across our state for both justice reforms and support for our kids,” Kelly said. “It sounds like Gov. Lamont is finally starting to realize the situation we are in.”
The governor’s office bristled at the notion that the press conference was somehow political.
With local municipal elections coming up in a few days, Republicans have been pushing a narrative that Republicans will enforce the law and “get tough on crime,” according to a text message paid for by the Connecticut Republicans.
“When people say it’s purely law and order, they miss the scope of the problems a year and half of COVID and a year and a half of quarantine have caused. It caused real hardship for this young man,” Lamont said, referring to the 14-year-old.
“Ninety percent of these kids are good kids. They went through a really tough time. A lot of stress and they need some additional supports,” Lamont said. They need some additional love, they need more mentors, they need the apprenticeships and some of these kids we’ve got to be a lot stricter with.”