BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — Growing up in Stamford, 25-year-old Charles Razor got caught up in the wrong crowd early into high school, and was sentenced to prison at 21.

“It was hard being away from my family, but I knew what I did to put myself there,” he said. “I had to get through it.”

He served three years and left with a new mindset — to find a better path.

“It changes your whole perspective of life and what you really want to do, instead of sitting in a cell all day,” Razor said. “It changed a lot.” 

His story is one of many in Connecticut, underscoring a growing population of disconnected and disengaged youth.

“Connecticut should know that we have a statewide crisis” said Andrew Ferguson, a former teacher and the co-CEO of Dalio Education.

The group released the findings of a new comprehensive study, titled “Connecticut’s Unspoken Crisis,” on Wednesday. The report shows what leaders call an alarming number of “at-risk” and “disconnected” young people in the state.

“This is a crisis impacting every town and city in this state, and the cost to Connecticut,” Ferguson said. “Not addressing this crisis is enormous.”

Of the 615,000 young people in Connecticut between the ages of 14 and 26, 19%, were considered “at risk and “disconnected” from employment and education.

That’s enough to fill Yankee Stadium twice.

The study took a year to complete, compiling data from several state agencies. 

“My immediate hope is this report is read, this report is shared, this report is talked about,” Ferguson said.

The study suggests factors like poverty, trauma, behavioral issues, challenging home environments and exposure to violence increase the likelihood of a high school student becoming disconnected from education and employment.  

“It has always been a crisis – this youth has always been around,” said Barbara Dalio, the founder and the co-CEO of Dalio Education. “The numbers have been high, but now because of COVID, it has really gotten much worse.”

Dalio is a mother of four and a philanthropist with a passion for education and helping youth.  Tackling this very issue has become her life’s work.

“I hope that everybody takes action, and that we can really embrace the young people and give them opportunities,” she said.

The study also points to the economic impact of the crisis, indicating that it costs Connecticut taxpayers more than $400 million per year. It claims the state is leaving $650-750 million on the table annually by not addressing it. 

Beyond cost, Ferguson said there’s a strong moral argument as to why people should care.  

“The ultimate immediate goal is to raise broad public understanding and awareness,” Dalio said. “I deeply believe you can’t love someone, until you know someone. In Connecticut, we need to love all young people.”

As for Razor, he is now focused on staying positive, finding honest work and making the most of his new beginning.

“I feel like everybody deserves a second chance – despite their record, despite their past,” he said. “I feel like if they are trying, just give them a chance.” 

The study also lists recommendations for community leaders on how to help fight the crisis, including continuing efforts to increase visibility around this population, increasing visibility, funding effective programs, and building capacity in schools and nonprofits to better support youth.

In a written statement, Kate Dias, the president of the Connecticut Education Association, said that the report sheds light on something teachers already know.

The issue of disconnected youth is not new to Connecticut educators, who for years have been sounding the alarm about the additional resources needed to help them support, engage, and improve outcomes for these students. This report brings the issue to the forefront and highlights the critical importance of our community schools, which take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the wide and diverse needs of our disconnected young people.

It’s time to rethink student benchmarks and to stop the overreliance on standardized test scores. We need systemic change so that success includes all possible life paths for students, not just college.

We are hopeful that bringing attention to the issue and the need to involve education, business, and community-based organizations, all working together, will allow educators the additional support and effective programs they need to help their students reconnect with education and the workforce so that they have successful, productive lives.

Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association