Putting children in prison is a bad idea. So why do some in Connecticut want to do it?
The narrative being woven by a small few for political gain would have you believe the only way to address juvenile car thefts - which are at historic lows - is to lock up more children.
Our judicial system is not set up to rehabilitate children and tying them up in that failed system does little to address the real issues facing our youth. The domino effect of a child in the system often begins with not graduating from high school, raising the chances they will commit more crimes later in life, almost guaranteeing they do not reach their full potential in life.
Funneling more teens into the system without an actual plan of action to support their specific needs is irresponsible. The reality is that 1 in 6 youth who commit crimes re-offend. From 2015 to 2019, Connecticut's youth incarceration rate fell by roughly one-quarter, which is equal to the national average. Implementing harmful blanked policies designed to “crackdown” on youth offenders does not address the root causes of this issue.
In an honest moment, you would be hard-pressed to find any percentage of people admitting that putting someone under the age of 18 in prison is good for them or society.
So, again, why do some want to do it? It is an effort to use the struggles of a very small group of youths for political gain.
So what is the solution? For starters, a system that puts more money into the pillars of a healthy community rather than dumping millions of dollars into militarizing our police forces would be a good first step. Connecticut has been on the right track in this movement, but we need to be sure it is maintained. Moving backward is not an option.
If you care about the root story then it’s not about car thefts in suburbs at all. It’s a discussion about how two communities separated by a few miles have vastly different living standards and primarily people of color are stuck with the short end of the stick on either side.
This seems intuitive enough, but the problem is measuring the effect. After all, the youths who commit crimes and get tossed in detention in the first place are presumably and fundamentally different from kids who never get detained. So it only makes sense they'd have different outcomes.
The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown communities, highlighting the need for more investment into community programming, not more policing. Unemployment and under-employment caused by COVID-19 have hit families hard and had a greater impact on the youth. According to NICB, the national increase in car thefts between 2019 and 2020 began in late Spring 2020, when states began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first two months of 2020 (pre-pandemic), car theft numbers continued to follow the historic low trend rates of 2019.
This current situation brought on by a generational event in the pandemic does not need to be handled with a blanket policy that will lead to the prosecution of our children. Kids that are facing trauma that drives them to not value their blood and breath should not be shackled with further risk, but more precise attention.
A knee-jerk reaction to leverage incarceration to solve this problem is like using a sledgehammer to crack an egg.
Do we value Connecticut cars or kids? We can address this issue by directing money at our communities and not the justice system. Harsher penalties don’t work. Policing and incarceration don’t make us safer. Investing in children and their families’ chance at opportunity and security does. The investments that make our communities healthy and strong prevent crime.
We have seen that upping the time of incarceration does not deter offenders from reoffending. Constructing ways to send more youth offenders to jail for longer terms is not the solution we seek or need in Connecticut. For years, we have run this test and know that increased policing of our children - especially those that are Black, Brown, or part of the LGBTQ community - worsen the issues. Investing in families and communities is where we need to begin.
On Friday, Aug. 6 at 11 a.m. the ACLU will stand in solidarity with our friends at the Connecticut Justice Alliance in a press conference bringing the focus where it belongs: the welfare of our state’s youth that needs more support, not incarceration.