Republicans have proposed an expansive bill that would promote education in the trades and create a college-to-law enforcement pipeline while also establishing stricter penalties for juvenile crime and walking back several provisions included in the Police Accountability and Transparency Act passed last year.
According to State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, chair of the legislature’s judicial committee, this bill will most likely be one of several aimed at changing certain aspects of juvenile justice law.
“There are parts of this that I think will potentially make their way to a final bill,” Winfeld said in a press conference on Tuesday.
State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, told CT Examiner that the items in the proposal came from discussions with prosecutors, public defenders, teachers, social workers and victims advocates.
The Republican’s bill would require school guidance counselors to present trade school as a career option. It would also make it a requirement for the Department of Education to provide incentives to boards of education to establish partnerships with local businesses under the currently existing Pipeline for Connecticut’s Future program. Under the program students will have the opportunity to participate in apprenticeship programs and become licensed in certain trades.
Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents said she saw districts’ work with the workforce commission as critically important for the students. Rabinowitz said that many districts were already participating in workforce programs, and that more had started offering these types of programs during the pandemic.
“I think it’s incredibly important for us to be doing it,” she said.
Rabinowitz said that while she didn’t want to see any mandates placed on the districts, the idea of incentivizing school districts to offer these programs was a good idea.
Patrice McCarthy, deputy director and general counsel at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, also said she saw the potential for the Republican’s proposal.
“Pathways to employment are an important opportunity for our students. This might be an excellent pilot project for districts interested in participating, and within the limitations of the capacity of the Department of Education to administer the Pipeline,” McCarthy wrote in an email.
The bill would also require the Board of Regents to partner with local and state law enforcement agencies to give students who major in criminal justice a mentor who works in law enforcement. The program is meant to recruit students to work in state and local police departments. After the students graduate they would have a job guaranteed at a law enforcement agency.
Leigh Appleby, director of communications for the Connecticut Board of Regents, said that the board was still reviewing the bill. He said planned to testify if the bill went to a public hearing.
Kelly told CT Examiner that the goal of connecting school districts to workforce initiatives was to expose them at a young age to the experience of working in a trade.
“Kids don’t have hope and opportunity. And what we need to do is show them that there is an alternative to crime and an alternative in the trades that can bring six figures on average,” said Kelly.
Winfield said that he was fine with the idea of having guidance counselors talk about trade school programs and creating summer jobs programs for high schoolers who are in “at risk” communities — another idea put forward in the Republican bill. He said these were similar to some of the things that the committee had tried to do in the past.
Winfield disagreed with the Republican’s proposals to expand the Roberta Willis Scholarship Program, which awards financial aid to college students, to cover trade schools as well. He said that while he thought the idea was done with good intentions, the scholarship program already wasn’t funding everything it was intended to.
“I think it will actually have a detrimental impact on the scholarship,” he said.
Winfield also said he didn’t see why a partnership between the Board of Regents and law enforcement couldn’t be done now, without the need for additional legislation.
The state police media relations unit did not respond to an email request for comment by the time of publication.
Kelly said the partnership between the state universities and law enforcement was modeled after a similar program in Ohio. According to Kelly, the Police Accountability and Transparency Law has discouraged people from joining police forces.
“One thing that we’re finding, based upon the police accountability law that was passed last year, is that it’s having a chilling effect on the recruitment of law enforcement officers to pick that up as a career,” he said. “So we have to do more than the status quo to maintain good quality law enforcement.”
“Any crime is a problem”
Beyond the educational component, the proposal also reintroduces several ideas suggested by Republican lawmakers last year to change the criminal justice system. These ideas include creating a uniform process for issuing a detention order for juveniles, juvenile record-sharing among police departments, requiring next-day court appearances for juveniles, and immediate assessment for mental health services, as well as requiring electronic monitoring and lowering the age at which a juvenile would be automatically transferred to adult court from 15 to 14 in the case of murder or violent crime.
Winfield said he was concerned about some of these proposals, including the automatic transfer to adult court and extending the length of time a juvenile could be detained. He also said he had doubts about the effectiveness of electronic monitoring, and said there needed to be more discussions around the next-day court appearances.
Winfield said that there were already existing avenues that judges and officers could take to address repeat offenders, and that it was up to those officials to implement the policies that already exist.
Several provisions within the bill would also substantially change provisions of the Police Accountability and Transparency Act. One would allow law enforcement officers to search cars — with the consent of the owners — during a stop for an offense like speeding or an expired registration. Another would reinstate qualified immunity for officers, and a third would drop the requirement for officers to intervene in the case of “unreasonable” or “excessive” force by another officer, and would only require intervention in the case of force that is “illegal.”
Winfield said he did not want to revisit the police accountability law this session.
“I am not particularly disposed to making new changes…” said Winfield. “I think we should allow the Police Accountability and Transparency Act to run its course.”
Winfield said that he didn’t anticipate the crime levels seen during the pandemic to remain – he attributed those increases to the pandemic shutdown. That said, Winfield said that he did see juvenile crime as a problem, and one that needed to be addressed by looking at the root causes.
“Any crime is a problem. And clearly, juveniles commit crimes,” said Winfield.
Kelly said that while he might be willing to make some changes to the proposal, he believed that the entirety of the plan was necessary to fully address juvenile crime.
“It’s not just the criminal justice and police accountability, but also the support and the services. You need both. You can’t have one or the other, it’s not going to work” he said.
Kelly said he didn’t yet know what the total cost of the bill would be.
Winfield said he anticipates a public hearing on juvenile justice later in the session that will include three or four proposals for Connecticut residents to weigh in on.