The attorneys of the Center’s Racial Justice Project advocate for new laws and changes to systems and policies to address racial inequities in education, school discipline, access to behavioral health services, and treatment in the juvenile justice system.
Connecticut youth of color are subjected to policies and practices that result in educational disparities and juvenile justice involvement. Through legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, litigation and collaborative work with communities and agencies, the Center identifies and reforms policies and practices that result in racial inequity.
The Center for Children’s Advocacy and the National Center for Children’s Law and Policy co-chair Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) committees in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury. Committee members include local and state stakeholders who work to reform policies and practices that result in youth of color being treated differently by the juvenile justice system.
Systemic reforms have
Video: CCA Attorney Leon Smith, Director of the Center’s Racial Justice Project and co-chair of Connecticut’s Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committees, discusses Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Education and Juvenile Justice
The Center’s Restorative Justice Project works inside Juvenile Justice Facilities to reduce incidents and re-arrests of youth, and improve relationships between youth and between staff and youth.
Using principles and practices of restorative justice, CCA teaches staff and youth strategies that enhance communication and conferencing to resolve conflict. Violation requires repair. Youth and staff work together to develop community and connection, learn behavioral skills that help with anger management, repair damaged relationships, and recognize the power to choose and build a different path.
The overwhelming success of this program at Connecticut Juvenile Training School and Waterford Country School led to requests for expansion to facilities throughout the state.
The Center received a McArthur 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 works 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 focus 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 spend the day working beyond negative perceptions and beginning to understand each other as individuals. Feedback from youth and officers is overwhelmingly positive.
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.
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.
Though progress has been made, a fourth study of Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice System concludes 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 explores 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 Color of Justice Revisited offers a timely, candid examination of how attitudes, experiences and stereotypes are impacting young people of color. 2017
The documentary includes interviews with Martha Stone, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and Leon Smith, 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 examines racial bias in the juvenile justice system in Connecticut and throughout the U.S. The documentary examines 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. 2013
The documentary includes interviews with Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy.
Leon Smith, Esq.
Director, Racial Justice Project