It is clear that once again lawmakers in Hartford are going to spend much of next year seeking to reduce spending in state government as a means of balancing the budget. A projected shortfall of more than $1 billion means that almost every budget item is vulnerable to spending reductions. In the face of this challenge, it is important for the legislature to decide at the beginning of the process which parts of the budget should be classified as essential to the general public and maintained at current levels. Our state court system surely must be placed in this category.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants. It is woven into the fabric of our nation. After all, most Americans are descendants of immigrants themselves and have come to the “land of the free and home of the brave” either by force or by choice. As a citizen of New Haven, one of my greatest sources of pride is knowing that our city is so representative of America’s incredible diversity.
The CTMirror story on the Vera Institute’s tour of Osborn Correctional Institution highlighted the mindset shift that has occurred under Commissioner Scott Semple’s watch, not to mention his progressive efforts to make incarceration an opportunity for true rehabilitation. Those efforts have been negatively impacted by the state’s dire budget situation to be sure, but the hope is that as we confront our immediate crisis we also seize the opportunities to address those factors that led to this scenario.
Two weeks ago, New Haven police arrested 13 sex workers in a sting operation in Fair Haven. The arrestees, all women, were charged with prostitution. Afterwards, the police department sent the womens’ mug shots, along with a press release, to local media. Several news outlets published the mug shots online.
Recent events and the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign have put a sharp focus on the need to devote more energy to the issues of diversity and inclusion and combating implicit bias. The urgent need to face these challenges first grabbed me in the aftermath of the shooting in 2012 at the Sandy Hook School located in my hometown. That event dramatically changed my outlook on life and led me to devote more of my personal time working in and learning about some of our most disadvantaged communities.
While criminal justice reform has gained mainstream, bipartisan acceptance over the past few years, the system remains a tangle of overlapping issues—racial disparities in sentencing, felon disenfranchisement, and disproportionate rates of mental illness in prisoners, for example. As of 2014, Connecticut had 326 people sentenced to state prisons for every 100,000 residents, and 35 women for every 100,000 female residents; this rate of female incarceration is just over half of that nationwide. Yet, American incarceration is so extreme that Connecticut’s relatively low rates are still higher than those of most medium- and large-sized countries in the world for both incarceration in general and incarceration of women.
This week, jaw-dropping footage of three Connecticut state police officers appearing to fabricate criminal charges against a protester made international news. Meanwhile, two families lost loved ones to police violence in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Each of these incidents was caught on video. All have inspired outrage from people around the world. It still might not be enough to ensure justice—and that should frighten all of us.
In his decision on Wednesday in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher made a lengthy, wide-ranging ruling on education and equity in our state. At the heart of Judge Moukawsher’s historic ruling is the affirmation of what educators, parents, students, and community leaders have been saying for nearly four decades—Connecticut’s school finance system is irrational, inequitable, and illogical. We can now add unconstitutional to that list.
Nearly all of the ways that the judicial system serves justice are unfair, and it is the poor, underprivileged citizens who are suffering.
According to NAACP.org, “African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.” Seeing those statistics, I can’t help assume that the justice system seems to have a bias that black people are all the same: that they’re all agitators of civilization. This bias isn’t the truth and is displayed by many African Americans including 17-year-old Aymir Holland.
Does someone have to get hurt before our state stands up for what’s right? UConn Health Center appropriately fired an individual who put the public at risk by getting high while working a job that involves driving a state vehicle and operating motorized equipment. But following an arbitration ruling in support of the employee’s case, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the arbiter’s finding instructing UConn Health to rehire the employee who got high on state time in a state vehicle.
Secret backroom deals, it has been proved time and time again, may be good for the deal-makers, but they are terrible for taxpayers. Yet, despite the debacle of the Hartford stadium dominating the news — a deal that was done in secret, with no public input — officials from the Connecticut Airport Authority, the town of Windsor Locks and MMCT (the joint venture of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes) spent much of the past year hatching a secret plan to transform Bradley International Airport into a mega-casino.
The League of Women Voters of Connecticut takes seriously its role of looking out for the integrity of the voting and electoral process. We naturally became concerned when catastrophic budget cuts were proposed for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the elections watchdog agency set up in the wake of the Rowland scandal and charged with the authority to protect the integrity of the electoral process.