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.
Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Neglect. Sex Trafficking. Community violence. Violent deaths of family and friends.
This is just a partial list of the traumas that many – if not most – youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system in Connecticut have experienced in their short lives. No wonder that they become willing to act “by any means necessary” in order to survive and protect those close to them — even if this lands them in juvenile prisons such as the Department of Children and Families’ Training School for boys and Pueblo Unit for girls.
In a scathing 68-page report released July 22, the Office of the Child Advocate reported on its findings after an investigation of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School over the past 18 months. OCA conducted site visits and interviewed staff and residents; viewed videotapes; and analyzed facility reports, educational attendance data and treatment plans. The youth prison model embodied at CJTS can’t be fixed. CJTS should be closed and here’s why:
Recent reports concerning the Department of Children and Families, along with Commissioner Joette Katz’s long history of failure, misplaced priorities and lack of transparency and accountability, leave me with no confidence in her willingness or ability to openly and seriously confront critical issues within her agency. That’s why I felt compelled to call for her resignation.
The Office of the Child Advocate’s report on the Connecticut Juvenile Training School reveals conditions requiring decisive action to keep youth safe. It is encouraging that the Department of Children and Families recently released its own report on CJTS acknowledging problems with the facility. Both reports leave me convinced that many of the youth at CJTS simply do not belong there.
Though we want to think it is so, the recent death of 7-month-old Aaden Moreno at the hands of his father was not a rare event, but an all-too-common outcome of a child custody case. The child’s mother had sought a protective order based on the father’s history of abuse and threats against the mother and child. There is now a substantial body of scientific research that would make family court judges’ jobs easier, but our children will not be protected until we rely on domestic violence experts instead of general practitioners and integrate this important research into the standard court practices. The Safe Child Act is an evidence-based approach requiring that the health and safety of children must be the first priority in all custody and visitation decisions.
We will never know with certainty what could have been done to prevent the killing of 7-month-old Aaden Moreno by his father earlier this month. But maybe, if we focus on making needed reforms to the Family Court system, we will be able to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
Amidst all last week’s news about decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s important that one less-noticed decision not get lost: the Court’s landmark ruling regarding housing discrimination. In a crucial ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a requirement in federal law that protects against housing discrimination against racial or other protected groups. The decision will benefit low-income people and people of color in Connecticut and across the country.
This year, Connecticut passed groundbreaking legislation that once again proved it is a leader in the LGBTQ rights movement – the birth certificate bill. It allows transgender and intersex people to correct the gender designation on their birth certificates. By passing this bill, the state removed discriminatory policies and eliminated barriers preventing members of the transgender community from accessing their basic rights.
A two-part series in the Connecticut Mirror this week asked the question of whether youth who break the law in Connecticut receive a second chance. It focused on the relatively small share of youth in the juvenile justice system who are placed in secure settings rather than the vast majority who receive services at home and in the community. What the article left out is that youths who are committed by Juvenile Court judges to the Department of Children and Families and placed at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School have received many second chances before that point.
During its special session, the legislature will consider the governor’s Second Chance proposal, which aims to make sure that a minor criminal offense does not forever bar a person from success. Policymakers should take the opportunity of the special session to extend second chances to children as well. Three quarters of inmates in state prisons do not have high school diplomas, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One of the most effective ways to cut our prison population is to increase our graduation rate. During the regular session, two no-cost proposals that would help kids in the juvenile justice system thrive in high school and beyond did not come to a vote.