Protecting the Rights of Youth of Color
Youth of color are subjected to policies and practices that result in educational disparities, adverse health outcomes, child welfare issues, and juvenile justice involvement. Through legislative and administrative advocacy, litigation, and collaborative work with communities and agencies, the Center’s Racial Justice Project identifies and reforms policies and practices that result in racial inequity.
Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) Reduction
The Center’s RED Reduction Project focuses on systemic advocacy to reform policies and practices of Connecticut’s education, law enforcement and justice systems that lead to over-representation of Black and Latinx youth at various points in the justice system.
CCA has established quarterly meetings with local stakeholders in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Hamden and Norwalk, to identify causes of RED and develop interventions. RED Reduction Committees are composed of stakeholders who focus on causes and strategies. Committee membership includes highly-placed personnel with decision-making authority from the local public schools, the local Juvenile Review Board, the Police Department, the local Juvenile Court, Juvenile Probation, the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and community-based programs. CCA co-chairs each RED Committee with a local partner.
Each Committee meets regularly to analyze data to identify in-depth the causes of RED. CCA and the RED Reduction Committee target the identified causes with specific strategies for reduction and plans for implementation of those strategies.
RED reduction strategies implemented to date include:
- new Juvenile Probation policies that reduced court referrals for violations of probation;
- new parole policy that implemented graduated sanctions that reduced disparities in parole revocations;
- local and state level reforms that reduced school-based arrests and reduced the number of youth in juvenile detention.
Recognizing that personnel turnover and resistance to change can cause successful system reforms to erode or become less effective over time, the Committee revisits interventions that successfully reduced RED to determine if the interventions continue to be implemented as intended, and adjust the reforms as necessary.
Video: CCA co-chairs Connecticut’s Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committees.
Watch discussion of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Education and Juvenile Justice
Systemic Advocacy to Eliminate RED
CCA is a member of the State Legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee (JJPOC), is on the Executive Committee of the JJPOC, and is on the Statewide JJPOC and is on the Statewide JJPOC Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committee.
CCA is currently advocating for systemic reforms requiring police to collect and report race and ethnicity data of youth stopped during pedestrian stops, which disproportionately impact Black and Latinx youth, to illuminate and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in pedestrian stops of Hartford youth.
Arrests of youth and punitive discipline in juvenile and criminal justice facilities contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in justice system confinement and recidivism. The punitive consequences contribute to youth getting stuck in the system, and take the place of more therapeutic responses that could address the root causes of misbehavior, teach youth interpersonal skills and alternatives to conflict. Punishing youth for misbehavior inside facilities instead of providing a treatment-oriented response reduces the likelihood that they will develop skills to avoid future conflict and continued involvement with the justice system.
The Center’s trailblazing program brings restorative justice practices inside secure facilities as an alternative to arrests and punitive consequences. CCA initially developed and piloted this innovative program at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) in collaboration with the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. The pilot was extremely successful, reducing conflict and acting-out behaviors. Major incidents and arrests decreased; arrests of youth for assaulting staff decreased by 33%. Youth and staff described a climate of improved problem-solving and communication. An October 2017 report by the CJTS Clinical Department stated that data showed an upward trend in the lessening of behavioral health symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, oppositionality) after the implementation of restorative practices. .
The State Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division and the State Department of Corrections are working with CCA to implement the restorative justice program in pre-trial detention programs, secure post-disposition facilities (secure juvenile justice facilities and a youth prison), and step-down residential facilities. The comprehensive implementation process includes:
- Extensive restorative justice training for administrators and custodial, direct care, counseling and programming staff;
- Restorative practices training for resident youth;
- Assessment of the facility’s existing behavior management approach and redesign to align with restorative practices;
- Integration of restorative justice principles into all aspects of the facility’s culture and operations;
- Ongoing coaching and consultation on restorative practices;
- Data collection and evaluation.
The Center for Children’s Law and Policy recently completed an evaluation of restorative justice initiatives in Connecticut youth facilities. Read the full report here and click below for a summary.
As co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Sheff v. O’Neill, the Center’s Racial Justice Project continues to represent Hartford children to provide equal educational opportunity to children of color.
CCA works to advocate with the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education for reforms to eliminate suspensions and expulsions of children in K-2nd grade and phase in that elimination for youth in older grades.
In recent months, CCA advocated with DCF to improve their collection of accurate race and ethnicity data of children and families involved with DCF and to secure commitments from system actors to work with CCA to reduce RED in child welfare. CCA will meet regularly with highly placed decision-makers from the Judicial Branch, Office of the State Attorney General and Office of the Public Defender to review court data and identify RED in decisions in DCF cases and develop reforms to reduce disparities. The child welfare committee will analyze court data by race and ethnicity at every point in the child protection system from the time a case is filed in court, to identify points of decision-making where there is RED and develop reforms to reduce RED at those points.
Promoting Restorative Justice in Connecticut’s Youth Facilities
CCA works with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) to replace the oppressive system of punitive consequences used inside facilities that results in racial and ethnic disparities (RED) in discipline and arrests inside facilities, with a restorative justice paradigm designed to reduce RED. CCA provides coaching and consultation to implement the restorative justice paradigm at facilities that house youth at shelters operated by the Bridge Family Center, NAFI and other providers.
Health & Mental Health
The Center’s Medical-Legal Partnership Project partners with health facilities in Connecticut to provide critical legal interventions for children suffering from family trauma and health-harming environmental stressors that disproportionately impact children of color. Learn more about the Medical-Legal Partnership Project here.
Centering Youth Voice
CCA serves as the facilitator for Youth SPEAKS, a group of Black and Latinx youth organizers who advocate for systemic reforms in juvenile justice and housing. Youth SPEAKS provides feedback on CCA’s systemic reform targets and strategies throughout the year. CCA’s direct legal services projects, which provide legal services to Black and Latinx Hartford youth, will continue to inform CCA’s systemic advocacy by identifying emerging issues and ensuring that CCA’s systemic reform advocacy is guided by the on-the-ground experiences of real children and youth.
Though progress has been made, a fourth study of Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice System concluded that at certain decision points black and Hispanic youth continue to be treated more harshly than white youth. A follow up to the 2013 CPTV documentary, The Color of Justice, The Color of Justice Revisited explored what the state is doing to help decrease unequal treatment and what effect bias may have on influencing decisions made by police officers, prosecutors, judges and the Department of Children & Families.
The documentary includes interviews with Martha Stone, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and Leon Smith, former Director of the Center’s Racial Justice Project.
Nationally, minority youth are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system and are treated more harshly than their white peers. Produced by Connecticut Public Broadcasting, The Color of Justice examined racial bias in the juvenile justice system in Connecticut and throughout the U.S. The documentary examined the forces that have shaped inequities in the state’s juvenile justice system, long-term trends, and the ways in which Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) affects Connecticut youth.
The documentary includes interviews with Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy.
Improving Alternative Education Programs
The state’s Alternative Education programs disproportionately serve children of color. Thousands of students are moved to schools that operate with little accountability and inferior educational supports.
The dropout rate at some programs was almost 90%. Working with education officials, legislators, teachers and families, the Center spearheaded reform of Connecticut’s alternative education programs.
In 2014, the Center wrote and secured passage of PA 13-122, which required the State Department of Education (SDE) to evaluate each of the State’s Alternative Education programs. See Guidelines for Alternative Education Settings, SDE, Oct, 2016.
In 2015, the Center wrote and secured passage of PA 15-133, which requires Alternative Education programs to provide the same supports as regular schools and provide reports about their programs to the SDE. The Racial Justice Project is monitoring schools’ adherence in multiple cities and working with the SDE on development of statewide guidelines for Alternative Education programs.
Reducing Arrest with Youth-Law Enforcement Training
The Center received a MacArthur Foundation grant to enhance the Pennsylvania DMC Youth/Law Enforcement Curriculum. CCA added a mental health component to the training curriculum for Connecticut workshops.
The Center worked in partnership with the Judicial Department’s Court Support Services Division, the Department of Children and Families, and community facilitators to help law enforcement understand adolescent development, traumatic stress reactions and the experiences of youth of color in interactions with officers – to help defuse interactions that could escalate into arrest. Discussions focused on bias and stereotypes, suggestions from each group to encourage positive outcomes, and the impact of mental health challenges and psychological trauma on youth behavior.
Education and effective communication are key to an encounter that remains calm rather than escalating into conflict. Interactions between officers and youth of color determine whether youth remain in the community or return to the juvenile justice system.
Sessions have taken place in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury, with a focus on youth who are on parole or probation, and at Connecticut Juvenile Training School for youth who are incarcerated. Youth who participate in these workshops express more positive perceptions of law enforcement and new respect for officers. Officers report a better understanding of adolescent development, mental health challenges and the impact of trauma on youth behavior.
Youth and officers spent the day working beyond negative perceptions and beginning to understand each other as individuals. Feedback from youth and officers was overwhelmingly positive.
Martha Stone, Executive Director