Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Youth and Urban Violence Commission had its first meeting Monday to address trends in the criminal justice system and review current research that sheds light on causes of urban violence.
The Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, was first announced on March 24. The stated goal of the commission is to review the root causes of urban violence and to propose programs that will continue to drive down crime. The panel comprises 26 experts and community leaders from throughout Connecticut, including Yale Law School professor and director of the Yale Justice Collaboratory Megan Quattlebaum and Yale sociology professor Andrew Papachristos. At Monday’s meeting, the commission reviewed current state crime statistics and discussed potential causes of violent crime.
“First and foremost, our goal is to actually reduce crime. Whatever we do, at the end of the day, if it reduces crime, it’s probably a good thing,” Michael Lawlor, the under secretary for the Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division at the Office of Policy and Management, said at the meeting.
Lawlor added that the commission also hopes to reduce spending and restore confidence in the criminal justice system.
Overall crime in Connecticut is at a 48-year low this year, according to a March 24 press release from the governor’s office. Still, Malloy said the state could do more to further reduce violent crime in Connecticut.
Lawlor said the commission’s main goal is to have experts in fields relating to urban violence weigh in on root causes of and solutions to high-crime rates in certain communities.
At the meeting, Quattlebaum addressed the issue of legitimacy — the extent to which community members accept police authority. She highlighted adolescence as a time when individuals develop their views of legal authority, adding that positive contact between juveniles and police can help build trust between officers and the community.
Papachristos presented data about the specific demographics that are most often victims of gun violence, and how gun violence concentrates in social networks.
Lawlor told the News before the meeting that a key part of the mission of this commission is to address the root causes of different kinds of gun violence.
“Why is it that young African-American men are shooting each other?” asked Lawlor, using this as an example of a discrete phenomenon the committee will address.
Part of the commission’s responsibilities includes identifying how current policies about unemployment, health care access and school discipline influence risk factors for youth violence.
Both Lawlor and Papachristos cited Project Longevity, a community and law enforcement initiative that aims to prevent violence in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, as an example of an intervention that has effectively addressed root causes of violence in communities.
According to Stacy Spell, the project manager for the New Haven branch of Project Longevity, the initiative does not engage in disciplinary action but instead seeks to help their clients — those engaging in group violence — become productive members of society.
“The goal is to reduce violence by direct intervention, by appealing to the group’s sense of logic and reasoning,” said Spell.
Brent Peterkin, Project Longevity’s statewide coordinator and a member of the commission, said the initiative attempts to establish positive social networks, as well as provide access to educational opportunities, health care and employment through partner services.
Spell said, however, that although people often point to a lack of employment as a root cause of violence, creating more jobs does not necessarily prevent violence. He said, instead, that he supports an entrepreneurial spirit, and that when an individual cannot find a job he or she should make his or her own job. Spell suggested starting a business by working with community organizations such as the Elmseed Enterprise Fund.
The committee is scheduled to submit their final report to Malloy by the end of the year.