The executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance said she was disappointed with recently-passed legislation that changes the way the state’s criminal justice system handles young offenders, as she said it doesn’t address root causes such as housing and economic insecurity and trauma.
However, Christina Quaranta said she and her organization will continue to work with communities and legislators to find ways to more effective solutions.
“I think this past session was disappointing because seeing how election season is upon us, I feel a lot of folks sort of bent to that,” Quaranta said, adding that other options need to be considered beyond what happens after a crime is committed.
“Instead of sending kids to adult court, how about we address the root issue of why they committed a crime in the first place,” she said.
The Alliance has been holding vision sessions since 2017. Now, the Alliance will launch #InvestInMeCT Revisited, a series of events during the week of Juneteenth (June 20 through June 24). The #InvestInMe campaign was first launched in June 2020 as a way to explore and address the root causes of youth criminalization.
The week will kick off with a press conference on June 20 during which the Alliance will release an addendum to its 2020 report “Ending the Criminalization of Youth: One Investment at a Time.”
The report outlines the root causes of juvenile crime, which also include needing more positive influences, improving equal opportunity for people of color, addressing lack of trust and respect for authority, and hope for the state’s underserved communities and communities of color.
Among the calls to action included in the 2020 report are for removing all youth under 18 from prison-like environments and to invest money in non-prison like environments with a focus on rehabilitation, police accountability, and investment in improving equal opportunity in the schools, housing and employment.
The “#InvestInMe Campaign Revisited” will feature three vision sessions sponsored by: the Tow Youth Institute at the University of New Haven on June 21 at 5:30 p.m., Senator Bob Duff at the Norwalk Public Library Main Branch at 10 a.m. on June 22, and It’s Time Waterbury at the Connecticut Junior Republic at 5:30 on June 23.
The week will then wrap up with a celebration of the Alliance’s work in the community at the Brewport Brewing Co. in Bridgeport noon to 3 p.m., June 24.
Quaranta said sometimes a real scenario will be examined, including taking a police report and looking at what could have been done differently. All the information will then be gathered and presented to legislators to figure out ways to address the concerns raised.
“Starting probably now really, we are meeting with legislators and talking about, ‘ok, what type of realistic youth justice can we move forward’,” Quaranta said.
Quaranta said another issue that will be revisited will be whether police are needed in Connecticut schools, although she realizes it will be a delicate subject given the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas.
Police in schools do not make them safer, Quaranta said.
“When there is a cop inside your school, you are more likely to be arrested, even more likely if you are black or brown or a student with a disability,” she said.
She points to a recent study by the Connecticut Voices for Children, which states, “we have found two years of data showing that SROs (school resource officers) have a significant impact that funnels young people into the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly for youth of color.”
Duff said the data does shows that people of color are arrested more often.
“On the other hand, you also have parents that feel safer having these officers in the schools,” Duff said. “It doesn’t mean it has to be one or the other. Maybe we should have a conversation about this and what the best approach is.”
He said officials can talk about more training, which could result in better outcomes.
Juvenile justice was an emotional subject during the last legislative session.
On May 27, with no fanfare, Gov. Ned Lamont signed the juvenile justice bill. The new law includes giving courts the discretion to require GPS monitoring of young offenders who are charged with a crime while awaiting adjudication of another incident. Other provisions allow police to hold minors for an additional two hours while they seek a detention order and require quicker arraignments, meaning young offenders would appear in court within five days of their initial arrest. The bill also equalizes charges for auto theft, removing a prior policy which scaled based on the value of the stolen vehicle.
A separate section raises the maximum sentence for a minor convicted of gun crimes, murder or sexual offenses from 30 months to 60 months.
Duff said the new law was a compromise. While he says there may be some who would prefer to “lock them up and throw away the key,” research shows that such an approach doesn’t work and is costly to taxpayers. He added the issues involved that result in juvenile crime are issues that have been around for many years.
“They just don’t have a magic formula to make them go away. You have to keep working at it,” Duff said. “We know that housing is a huge issue, which is why we need to put more dollars into affordable housing, but at the same time you have to change our zoning laws.”
Duff said the 2022 Connecticut Child Tax Rebate will help families as well as mental health legislation, with Lamont recently signing off on three bills which collectively dedicate more than $100 million to fund services like school-based health centers, early childhood education slots, and recruitment and training efforts to increase the number of mental health providers in the state.
Duff also cites the state’s new law to require the state Department of Correction to establish a program to help certain incarcerated people take a test for a commercial driver’s license.
“We need a lot of drivers right now,” he said. “Let’s get them a job.”
Duff said the vision sessions are a good opportunity to talk about youth crime.
“I think there is still a lot of interest in these issues, and how we can make Connecticut safer by continuing to look at smart criminal justice reforms that embrace the notion of helping youth make better choices and point them in directions that don’t include recidivism, which is a pipeline to prison,” Duff said.