In the aftermath of the death of a 14-year-old in Waterbury, Gov. Ned Lamont expressed support for stricter policies to address crime, including changes to the juvenile justice system and a greater police presence in municipalities.
Commissioner James Rovella of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection spoke about the teen’s death at a press conference convened by Lamont on Thursday. Rovella said that the youth was brought into St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury at approximately 3 a.m. on Monday. The teenager, who was shot, subsequently died from his wounds.
Rovella said there were approximately 100 to 200 youths in the state of Connecticut who needed to be taken into custody.
“Some of these kids become crime waves to municipalities and to different areas around the state. We need to save their lives, we need to make sure they have the wrap-around services… We do not want to put them in jail, but we need to slow them down,” said Rovella.
Lamont said the state had taken some steps to improve the current juvenile justice system, including providing judges with the capability to access a juvenile’s records outside of business hours and increasing the amount of time that juveniles can be detained.
Lamont also said that he would be inaugurating an interim class of judges to help with the backlog of cases in the courts due to the pandemic. He noted that there are group facilities that are available for young people. He expressed support for community policing, and pointed to an increase in hiring of both the State Police and the municipal police forces.
Both House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford and State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, called on the Governor to convene a special session to address juvenile crime, something that the Republicans have repeatedly asked for.
“It sounds like Gov. Lamont is finally starting to realize the situation we are in,” Kelly said in a statement. “We must act to give law enforcement and our courts the tools they need to address high risk repeat offenders. That is the only way to stop crime now. We also need to create opportunity, mentorship, mediation, and address trauma in our communities to prevent crime in the future.”
“After today I don’t see how the governor can do anything but call the legislature into special session to tackle this emergency,” said Candelora in a statement.
Democrats did not release a statement in response to the press conference.
Lamont said he had spoken with the family of the young man who was shot. According to Lamont, the family wanted more outlets and activities for young people, but also said they wished that the system had been “a little bit stricter” — that probation had been stricter after his first offence, and that the ankle bracelet had had a GPS device.
Rovella said that the shooting was still under investigation, but that he expected it to come to a resolution soon.
Max Reiss, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, told CT Examiner in a call after the press conference that there were no plans by the Governor to call a special session at this time.
“The Governor is urging for the use of effective tools to keep communities safe and to ensure those juveniles with significant history with law enforcement are not placing the public at risk,” said Reiss. “Utilizing monitoring, executing take into custody orders and similar tools can help to ensure the small number of juvenile offenders who have been committing the majority of these crimes are held accountable while providing them with valuable mental health and wrap-around services.”
“Make the doggone investments”
Andrew Woods, executive director of Hartford Communities that Care, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing gun violence in Connecticut’s cities, said at the press conference that there needed to be an effort made to address the lack of services in the communities where he worked.
“There’s a serious misperception out here about young Black men, Latino men … that they don’t have caring parents, that they don’t have a supportive community, that they themselves are just caught up in this world that is very attractive to them when in fact it’s the complete opposite,” said Woods.
Woods said that while the people in the communities he works in consistently turn to his organization and to neighbors for help, there’s a lack of resources available.
“Until we make those investments and stop with the BS … we are going to keep seeing, unfortunately, situations like this … But let’s stop playing games. Governor, make the doggone investments. Legislature, make the changes that need to be made to make sure that people get the supports that they need,” said Woods.
Jacquelyn Santiago, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Compass Youth Collaborative, also highlighted a need for investing in resources and mentoring for young people.
“Just the mere fact that we put them behind bars or monitor them alone does not mean they will not go out and do it again. It’s about exposing them to what’s right. It’s about teaching them the right path.”
Lamont also said the state would work on providing more wrap-around services for young people.
“I think that when people just say it’s purely law and order they miss the scope of the problems that a year and a half of COVID and a year and a half of quarantine has caused,” he said. “It’s all of the above. It’s working with moms and dads … working with our local police, working with the amazing social service agencies, so an all-of-the-above approach can help deal with this in a serious way.”