Connecticut Justice Alliance calls on the state to address the root causes of crime

BRIDGEPORT — Two years after launching a campaign to end the criminalization of young people, the Connecticut Justice Alliance is once again urging state and local authorities to address the root causes of crime by funding social services.

A new report released earlier this week by the alliance also calls on leaders to eliminate racial disparities in the justice system, close the generational divide on the causes of crime and address overreliance on the police to maintain order, especially in communities of color.

“Connecticut, while further along the path to transforming its legal systems than many other states, still has a lot of work to do,” the 26-page report says. “The dark cloud of racism that is ever-present in systems of oppression leads to underfunding, funding or total non-funding of initiatives that address the root cause of crime in our communities. “

The report argues that crimes committed by young people are often the result of food and housing insecurity, a lack of community services, and a punitive justice system more interested in handing out sentences than providing a pathway to justice. rehabilitation.

The alliance’s ongoing campaign aims to reduce the number of young people who are trapped in the system and risk being confined to a cell in an adult prison, according to Jordyn Wilson, a community relations association with the alliance. .

“We believe there are alternatives that can meet the needs of our young people,” Wilson said. “Prisons are not rehabilitative, especially the adult prison system. They don’t have the resources to meet the needs of the children.

In 2021, Connecticut officials locked nearly 300 children in detention centers and another 37 in state youth prisons, according to the report. More than half of those admitted were black.

Wilson said the alliance advocates that children charged with serious offenses be placed in a supportive facility outside of the prison system, provided with appropriate resources and education, and then allowed to return home. them.

“As an organization, we look at consequences differently and we look at liability differently,” she said. “Consequences should teach you a skill, not punish you. Accountability shouldn’t hurt.

The alliance’s recent report builds on the findings of a study published in 2020 when the group was known as the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. Among other things, the initial report called on local authorities to eliminate racial inequalities in housing and unemployment and to fund mental health support services.

Both reports were based in part on a series of “visioning sessions” held across the state with youth impacted by the criminal justice system. New findings also include feedback from school resource officers, legislative task forces and community members.

The sessions revealed that participants cared deeply about eradicating racial inequities in the criminal justice system, including the fact that black youth are more than 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers in Connecticut, according to The Sentencing Project.

They also want to see a reduction in “overreliance on the police” in communities that have traditionally been underserved by social services, including in school settings.

“The overall role of the police in schools is to protect the school, but school staff members have become dependent on the police disciplining children for normal behavior instead of using restorative tools that do not involve contact with the police,” the report said.

According to the report, a major obstacle to introducing policy changes is the divide between young people and adults on what leads to criminal activity and how to prevent future offences.

The sessions showed that some adult participants attributed crime to gang initiations and peer pressure rather than poverty. Ultimately, however, most participants came to a consensus after talking together about their personal experiences for a few hours.

Wilson said the alliance hopes to bridge the generational gap by continuing to speak to young people and other residents of the state. A new series of visioning sessions with a wide range of participants took place this week in New Haven, Norwalk and Waterbury.

“There’s a lot to do to change politics in Connecticut and it starts with these conversations,” Wilson said. “We have to listen to young people because they will tell you exactly what they need.”

Those interested in learning more about the Connecticut Justice Alliance can visit their website at

[email protected]

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