Juvenile justice advocates want Governor to release funding, reform talks continue

Hartford

HARTFORD, CONN. (WTNH) — Illiana Pujols, policy director at the Connecticut Justice Alliance, says there is more to the story.

“We’re dealing with young people who have way bigger issues than the offense that they commit,” Pujols said.

Advocates say reports show there has been a 93% increase in motor vehicle theft with keys left inside since 2013.

State Crime data shows the age of those arrested has remained stable, adding those under 18 seen in orange on a bar graph account for less than 40% of all arrests.

“These kids want positive people in their life and they’re not gonna listen to just anybody in a suit,” added Pujols.

“It seems like there are cases where the kids should be locked up and the police should be taking advantage of the existing law,” said Associate Professor Mike Lawlor at the University of New Haven.

He says often police are not requesting detention for repeat offenders.

“Especially in the smaller town police departments, it’s clear the chiefs and the officers aren’t really familiar with the procedures for getting a kid held in detention,” added Lawlor.

State Senate Republican Minority Leader Kevin Kelly says locking your car is good advice, but it won’t stop the violence and it won’t give kids an opportunity.

“I think the focus should be on making Connecticut’s streets safer for its citizens,” Kelly said.

Kelly says New Haven and Hartford are on pace for one of the deadliest years in decades. He agrees with advocates that finding the root cause is critical.

Kelly asks, “Why do individuals seek crime in the first place and make sure that we have the proper wrap-around services, education, and job training.”

What about victims?

“I’m concerned about the victims because I grew up as a victim. I slept with a knife under my mattress every night because I was a victim of crime constantly… the way you make victims more safe is to get the system to actually work,” said State Senator Gary Winfield, a Democrat from New Haven and chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Adding to the frustration, money — millions they say are not getting out the door and they blame the Governor.

“The kids said to us why isn’t anybody talking about the attempted suicide or suicides of our friends that have despair and have nothing to do and have nowhere to go, they don’t have food… it gets to you after a while because the children know how we should be resolving this,” said State Representative Toni Walker, the Democratic Chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“Governor Lamont has been out front on juvenile justice issues and will continue to be aggressive in supporting our communities. This is clear through the substantial sums supplied to community providers with the goal of reducing youth crime and gun violence, including millions specifically for youth employment and supports,” said Chris McClure, a spokesperson for the Office of Policy and Management under the Governor. “At present, the funds have been released or the affected agencies are working diligently to execute contracts or the administration is in the process of obtaining any clarifications needed as to legislative intent and ensuring allowability of legislative allocations under federal rules and guidance.”

In the meantime, whether this issue will come up during any potential special session will be discussed again next week.

House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora released the following statement in response to Democrats who held a news conference about juvenile justice reform:

“Today’s news conference spearheaded by radical advocates and legislators desperate to preserve our state’s broken juvenile justice system won’t give Connecticut residents’ confidence that majority Democrats will push for substantial policy changes to help curb the serious crimes we’re seeing statewide, and certainly nothing that introduces an iota of accountability. Labeling what’s occurred a ‘manufactured issue’ won’t sit well with anyone, nor will blaming police officers for being ignorant of the law. ‘Divesting from the justice system’ is preposterous, and urging everyone to ‘pick a side’ is as divisive as it gets.”

“I hope Democrats serving communities touched by this crisis will watch this news conference and realize that the colleagues they’re counting on to negotiate solutions to this problem are more interested in protecting perpetrators than making everyone’s neighborhood safer.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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