It’s been three years since we last embraced our precious little boy, Noah. At 6 years old, he was the youngest child murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. ..The passage of time has nowhere near dimmed the vivid memory of that day nor made it any less difficult for us to cope with the pain and anguish of losing our only son. The heartache of burying a child is a sorrow we would not wish upon anyone. Yet to our horror, we have found that there are some in this society who lack empathy for the suffering of others. Among them are the conspiracy theorists that deny our tragedy was real. They seek us out and accuse us of being government agents who are faking our grief and lying about our loss.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly are to be commended for their 2015 “Second Chance Society” legislation, reversing racist laws that filled our jails with nonviolent drug users, most of them African-American and Latino. But it is ill-advised to pursue announced policies emanating from that corrective action; especially plans for secret trials of defendants in their early 20s.
In light of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to “Raise the Age” of juveniles to 20, it is time to recognize once and for all that Connecticut’s juvenile delinquent offenders should be sent to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and not to the state’s youth prison, Manson Youth Institute. Contrary to the Office of the Child Advocate’s misleading and politically-charged claim that we are abusing our residents, the truth of the matter is that the residents of CJTS receive a comprehensive, intensive, and high-quality array of services from dedicated and passionate professionals.
Before “raising the age” again, the State of Connecticut and its key justice agencies — DCF, DOC and the Judicial Branch including the Court Support Services Division — need to participate in an honest independent look at all of our current organizational structures for adjudicated youth. The purpose of this external review would be to examine creation of an independent Juvenile Justice Authority that is science-informed, takes a two-generation approach and is anchored in “evidence-based” policy, practice and programs. Clearly what we have now is not working well. Besides that, it is really expensive.
The Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Pueblo Unit should close. Institutions of this sort, by their very nature, inevitably depersonalize children, engender abuse and fail to address public safety. I know because I used to run one.
The recent report from the Office of Child Advocate states that the vast majority of children and youth at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and Pueblo have “histories of trauma, abuse, neglect, complex psychiatric disorders and special education needs.”
It then goes on to detail the use of isolation and restraints as behavior management strategies or for discipline even in non-emergency situations. I want to start by saying those charged with rehabilitating and treating this vulnerable population face difficulties and challenges. But are cycles of punishment that go nowhere and only harm our youth any better? I say no, and I offer an alternative: operating from an understanding of the impact of trauma.
At the end of a grueling three-hour hearing on Aug. 21, state Rep. Toni Walker, chair of Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee, laid the issue on the table. Referring to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, Connecticut’s only state-run youth corrections facility for boys, she asked, “The real question is, does Connecticut need CJTS? [Does the facility provide] the level of care that we really require in this state? Is CJTS the best method of delivering the needs for that population?” These questions are being hotly debated in Connecticut thanks to new revelations of a rash of suicide attempts and pervasive use of physical restraints and seclusion, both at CJTS and in the small Pueblo unit that opened nearby last year to serve troubled girls.
Appellate judges are famous for asking hypothetical questions. They are a very important part of the oral argument process, as they help the judges understand how their decisions in particular cases may apply to future cases. Advocates rarely get to ask judges hypothetical questions, but I’m going to ask one anyway. It is directed to the esteemed justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court who [recently], in a 4-3 decision, abolished the death penalty. (I don’t expect an answer of course. This is just a thought experiment.)
Many ex-convicts who get out of prison end up in Hartford on our streets. According to a Pew Center on the States study, almost half of ex-cons soon end up back in jail for committing crime because it is sometimes their only way to pay their bills. I work as a chaplain at a prison in Connecticut and many convicts, including military veterans, approach and complain to me that they have no future outside of those walls since a lot of them went to prison while they were young, didn’t have education, and worst of all, have a criminal record that will follow them around. I believe that a person who committed a non-violent crime and served a punishment for it should be given a second chance.
The Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling that our state’s capital punishment law is unconstitutional has fulfilled all of the objectives of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. The ruling has put an end to a broken policy that prolonged the legal process, and as a result sometimes inflicted additional harm on murder victims’ families.
I have been a law enforcement officer with a mid-sized municipal agency for almost five years. The debate over whether officers should be wearing body cameras to me seems long overdue, but not for the reasons most are talking about. The reason I believe police should wear body cameras is to me not just a matter of checking our integrity and conduct (although that certainly will be a benefit), but is more a matter of checking the integrity and conduct of the people we come into contact with.
Cell phone or closed circuit video give hints, conflicting testimony often raises doubts, and the ensuing debate often leaves the public’s confidence in law enforcement severely shaken. For all our benefit, we should have a neutral account of police encounters in Connecticut. The new Connecticut state law that will provide funding for the implementation and use of body cameras by every police officer in Connecticut is beneficial not only for the general public, but for law enforcement as well.