For every Caucasian youth incarcerated in Connecticut, there are more than 10 black youths in prison as well, according to a recent report by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
The report, which was published in September, uses data from the Department of Justice from 2015. Although Connecticut has a lower overall rate of youth incarceration relative to other states, the racial gap is larger than the national average, which sees about five black incarcerated youths for every Caucasian youth. The study also reported that Connecticut has seen its youth racial disparity “at least double” since 2001.
“I thought about some of the trips I have made to correctional facilities, and they don’t reflect the populations in Connecticut,” said Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, a member of Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee. “You see mostly black and brown people.”
JJPOC, a task force commissioned by the state legislature in 2015, evaluates state juvenile justice policies. The committee is attempting to address inequality and expand transparency within the justice system, Porter said.
She added that there are systemic problems that disadvantage children of color, beginning in schools. Over the last three years, JJPOC has been working with schools and police officers to implement an escalation policy in an effort to reduce school arrests. School arrests have since been cut in half in Bridgeport and Hartford, Porter said.
Mike Lawlor, under secretary at the Office of Policy and Management, said Connecticut has successfully reduced the overall number of incarcerated youths over the past decade. He added that the state is focusing on reducing incarceration and youth incarceration and currently has plans to close Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a juvenile detention center, by July 2018.
Prosecutors currently have discretion in deciding whether to transfer youths to adult courts, a policy that the state must “take a hard look at,” according to Porter, who added that the justice system must emphasize rehabilitation and restoration rather than punishment.
Lawlor said that socioeconomic problems factor into racial disparities, as communities of color are frequently disadvantaged in the state, and many young offenders have an “extraordinary history of trauma” and never had a first chance at life. He added that implicit racial bias is also a problem in the justice system and that the state is taking initiatives to address this, such as encouraging police body cameras, emphasizing cultural sensitivity training and analyzing data from traffic stops.
Lawlor said incarceration puts young inmates at higher risk for incarceration later in life. He also pointed to schools as a starting point for reducing youth incarceration as expulsions and suspensions can increase risk of incarceration later for students.
Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said racial and ethnic inequalities are a problem around the country and that Connecticut has worked to address the disparities. The state has done well volume-wise but is “not gaining any grounds in terms of percents,” she said.
She recommended the state examine implicit bias and systemic racism within the system without pointing fingers to look for solutions, adding that the state should also listen to leaders from the black community about what they need and what they think the answers are.
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