Racial Inequities Key Target of Youth Justice Reform: Report

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A groundbreaking report published Thursday by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CJJA) is calling on state and city leaders to tackle the racial inequities that are the “root causes of youth criminalization.”  

The report, nearly two years in the making, is the basis for the Juvenile Justice Alliance’s “#Invest in Me CT” campaign, which calls for  proactively and thoughtfully investing in what young people need most in order to eliminate racial inequalities in their communities.

The proposals are not necessarily new, but what makes these findings so unique, according to Iliana Pujols, the alliance’s director of community relations and the primary author of the report, is that these insights and recommendations come from the source most affected: “young people whose lives have intersected with the juvenile or adult criminal justice systems.”

The report echoes this sentiment, explaining how these recommendations come from the inside-out, not the outside-in. 

“A lot of kids told us, ‘Nobody has ever asked me what I need to not come back [to a detention center],” Pujols told the CT Mirror. 

Pujols continued by saying that many of the youth put emphasis on restorative justice, citing that many of the kids don’t consider how incarceration would affect them in the long term, like “how it will make it harder for them to get an apartment or a job, how it will affect their adult lives.”

So, to make the future for youth in Connecticut communities better, they started to have the difficult conversations with the help of their Justice Advisors — young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have been in the justice system or have justice-involved family members — who led “vision sessions” with 150 youth and community members.

The report outines how these “vision sessions” were centered around tackling difficult questions like, “Where should youth who commit more serious offenses go? What kind of spaces do they need to be in? What plan ensures the most success for our young people?”

The CJJA’s report concluded with seven identifiable inequalities and injustices that the youth have faced, followed by 10 Call-to-Action recommendations that lawmakers in Connecticut should enact to support all communities.  

The Call-to-Action recommendations are now the foundation of the “#Invest in Me CT” campaign.

The seven Inequalities and Injustices center around housing and economic insecurity, trauma within communities that lead to a lack of trust with the system, and a need for positive influences, hope, and opportunities, the CJJA report details. 

Moreover, the 10 Call-to-Action recommendations outlined in the report are:

      • Remove all youth under the age of 18 from prison-like environments;
      • Invest money into non-prison-like rehabilitative programs;
      • Invest in a wide variety of individualized activities and programs; 
      • Ensure that law enforcement and those in authority are held accountable when displaying abuses of power;
      • Invest in mental health support services;
      • Create strategic plans to address and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities;
      • Acknowledge racial inequality;
      • Better invest in education and opportunities;
      • Establish trust and real relationships between agencies and communities; and,
      • Ensure that those who don’t typically have a voice are becoming decision-makers themselves. 

“We can achieve our goals if we all take the proper measures to invest our time, money, care, and love into bettering our young peoples’ pathways to achievement,” the CJJA report concludes. 

“That’s why we’re urging decision-makers to support the futures of our state’s youth by investing in success instead of arrests.”

The full report can be accessed here. 

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano

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