(pensive music) - Welcome to "CUTLINE in the Community: Justice Now" in search of common ground on criminal justice reform sponsored by Fairfield University's Master of Public Administration Program and in partnership with Connecticut Public.
I am Dr. Gayle Alberda, an Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the MPA program.
Since the murder of George Floyd, there has been an increase in calls for criminal justice reforms.
Recently, Connecticut has passed several laws on this topic, including expanding ballot access to people on parole, abolishing prison gerrymandering, allowing free phone calls from prison, banning choke holds, whistleblower protections to report excessive use of force, requiring uniformed officers to have their names and badge numbers visible on all outer garments, body and dash cameras for any officer interacting with the public, and enacting Clean Slate Laws, as well as time limitations that an incarcerated person can be held in isolated confinement.
Tonight, our bipartisan panel will dive into what's next for criminal justice reform.
With me is State Senator Herron Gaston from the 23rd State Senate District representing parts of Bridgeport and Stratford.
He is the Senior Pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church in Bridgeport.
Senator Gaston received his doctorate degree from Yale University, a law degree from Quinnipiac University, and holds four master's degrees, two from Florida A&M University, and two from Yale University.
- Gayle, thanks so much for having me.
- Next is State Representative Greg Howard from the 43rd Assembly District representing Stonington, North Stonington, and Ledyard.
He is a detective with the Stonington Police Department.
Representative Howard currently holds an EMT certification as well as an EMS instructor certification.
- Hi Gayle, thank you for having me.
- Finally is Reverend Dr. Charlie Stallworth, a faculty member at Fairfield University's MPA program.
Prior to this position, he was a state representative for six terms representing Bridgeport.
He is also the Senior Pastor of the East End Baptist Tabernacle Church in Bridgeport.
Dr. Stallworth received his Doctorate of Ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary and his Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University.
- Dr. Alberda, it's good to be here.
- So can each of you share what is your connection with criminal justice?
- So my criminal justice background started very early on as a teenager.
I formally served as the youth branch president for the NAACP in the state of Florida and in Haines City in particular.
I also worked in lobbying firm around criminal justice reform in Tallahassee, Florida at Public Affairs Consultants.
And then I also served on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys through the Charlie Crist administration, who was the governor of Florida back in 2009.
And then I also worked for the Department of Corrections in the area of reentry and helped to protest the Stand Your Ground Law against the slaying of Trayvon Martin with George Zimmerman.
So I have a long history of working around criminal justice reform and currently I serve as the Police Chaplain for the Bridgeport Police Department.
- So my life work has been around criminal justice.
I started in public service at the age of 14 working in EMS and then at the age of 22 became a police officer where I've served for the last 21 years.
The last seven as a detective, I've been a canine handler, I've been a crisis intervention officer working with mentally ill individuals on calls.
And I've also been a field training officer and police instructor as well.
And then when I decided to run for the state legislature, I've been serving the Public Safety Committee as the ranking member and also with the Judiciary committee.
Extensive training in laws of arrest, laws of evidence, search and seizure, and certainly use of force so literally, my entire adult life has been dedicated to the criminal justice system.
- And Dr. Stallworth.
- Yes, criminal justice is part of my DNA.
My father was on the tail end of the civil rights movement and that has just been nurtured throughout my entire life.
And now as a Senior Pastor, I'm going to court with people who have had to face the criminal justice system.
I've been a professor here at this wonderful institution.
I have the chance to engage in wonderful minds in discussion.
Being a former politician I made laws concerning criminal justice and just as a person wanted equality for all people.
- So when we think of criminal justice, a few things typically come to mind, such as prisons, crime, police, inequality, racism, reform is a big term today.
So I wanna begin by asking this larger, more theoretical question, why is criminal justice so imperative?
Dr. Stallworth, I'm gonna start with you.
- When I was growing up and I mentioned growing up in a small southern town, and I remember as a kid, a police officer, a white police officer had shot an unarmed Black man, and the community had no hope that anything would be done.
And now here we are many more years later and we are still fighting the same fight.
So I believe it's imperative because you cannot look over one aspect of a community and expect for the entire community to grow and to be a vibrant place for everybody.
- I'll pivot it to either one of you, if you would like to.
- I'll go.
So law enforcement is an important part of the community.
Law enforcement is a first line of defense for a community.
They obviously not only enforce laws that we pass in Hartford to protect other members of the community, but also a community caretaker function, I think it's overlooked.
And police officers, I worked with an old police officer one time who said, "The police department is the miscellaneous department.
We handle what nobody else does."
And in effect, we do that oftentimes by nature of the fact that we're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to individual citizens who need help.
So when we talk about criminal justice reform, and as Dr. Stallworth said here, when there's a mistrust of of law enforcement, a lot of resources get dedicated to trying to overcome that.
So that takes away from resources of protecting the community.
So that's why rebuilding that trust and having that trust inherent is super important.
In addition to that, when there is that lack of trust, the job becomes exponentially more difficult.
Right now in the state of Connecticut, we're seeing individuals who are going around and videotaping in public buildings as an example, to bait police officers into some sort of a confrontation.
That takes that resource away and then there's a lot of reporting aspects and stuff.
So those sort of things that happen are taking away from the core mission, which is to serve the public and protect them.
So I think it's important we have these conversations, that we get to a place where the community trusts the police, the law enforcement knows their role and the restrictions of their roles and the ramifications of misrepresenting that role to really get the job done effectively for the betterment of all.
- Thank you.
I think that in order to talk about criminal justice reform, we have to have a very honest conversation around America's original sin around racism and the systemic issues that I think that have been brought to bear in terms of the over-policing in certain communities that have created this mistrust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.
And so one of the things I think that is important to talk about is the social conundrums of poor communities of color especially, those communities sort of being acted upon by having an over police presence in those communities historically.
And what that has meant in terms of people's understanding of the functionality of police officers being guardians opposed to being something to be feared.
And so I think it's very important to sort of understand the history of policing because if we don't understand our history, we don't understand our past.
If we don't understand our past, we don't understand our present.
And if we don't understand our present, we cannot understand our future.
And so I think right now we are in a unique opportunity to really address some of the systemic issues that have plagued our communities for many decades in getting to a point now where we can understand each other and have very honest and open transparent conversations in order to help move our communities forward and move our society forward.
- What excites me about what you all just said is that we're gonna dive into all of this stuff tonight.
We're gonna talk a little bit more about how communities of color might view this, we're gonna talk a lot about trust and what kind of resources officers do need, as well as some of the historical aspects, like Dr. Stallworth, you were saying.
So before we dive into all of that, I have been watching some of the activity in Hartford and so I wanna talk a little bit about some of the bills that you guys have worked on, both independently and collectively.
So first I'm gonna start with you, Senator.
You've recently introduced a bill that would alter a current piece of legislation or current act that would prohibit any law enforcement agency from stopping, detaining, searching any motorist solely on things like race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation.
That's currently how the law reads.
You proposed a bill that took that a step further that suggested that they also need to tell someone when they pull them over, like verbally explain why.
Can you tell us a little bit about why you offered that bill up?
You know, all too often I've experienced the ease with which Black men who look like me fall under the crushing yoke of injustice by a prejudicial and bias criminal justice system.
And as a African American male who lives in an inner city and who have far often been pulled over by law enforcement and the level of treatment that I've received in certain municipalities over other municipalities, I thought that it's mission critical for the safety and the livelihood of individuals behind the wheel that they're protected.
And so I worked in a bipartisan fashion with some of my colleagues, including Representative Howard who's here, to talk about ways in which we can make this bill something that is not an indictment tool on police, because we recognize the hard work that police officers do each and every day, putting on that uniform, protecting and serving the lives of those that they're looking after in this state, but we also recognize on the flip side of that, that not every motorist receive the same kind of treatment.
And so what we want to do is standardize that process by ensuring that when a motorist is pulled over, that from the very inception at that stop, that we can create a harmonious relationship between the motorist and the law enforcement official and not create a situation of tension at the onset.
Most folks are gonna ask the question, "Why am I being pulled over?"
And so I know that Post University does training around interactions between police officers when they pull someone over, and most police officers do tell people why they're being stopped.
But that is not a standardized practice across our state.
And so I just wanna ensure that places like Greenwich and Fairfield and Stonington and other cities around this state are treating folks the very same way that folks in Waterbury should be doing, and the police departments in Bridgeport and Stanford.
And so that's what really got me behind this bill.
But more importantly, Senator Alvin Penn, the late Senator Alvin Penn served in the seat that I currently occupy, legislator from Bridgeport and Stratford.
And he was pulled over one night coming from legislative session, I believe in Stratford.
And that's how the initial Alvin Penn Bill came about.
But that bill did not take it to the step to where we need to be now and the step that I wanted to add to that is ensuring that people know why they're being stopped, at least before the conclusion of the stop.
- One of the other bills that I wanna just talk about real quick, Representative, is your bill that deals with, I believe searches of cars, asking for consent.
- Yeah, so prior to the Police Accountability Bill of 2020, law enforcement officers in this state and throughout the United States were able to on a motor vehicle stop solicit consent.
They could say to an operator, "Do you mind if I search your vehicle?"
Certainly if the individual, the operator said, "No, you may not," they cannot search the vehicle.
The Police Accountability Bill in 2020 made that illegal.
The officer can no longer do that.
In fact, the police bill in 2020 also made it illegal to ask an individual for consent to search them.
When I came to legislature in 2021 with my experience, I said, "This is a real problem and let me explain why."
First of all, the search of a person is a problem because if Senator Gaston is a victim of a burglary and I were to get DNA samples, say from the point of entry and to submit them to the lab, I need what we call exemplars.
So I need to ask Senator Gaston, "Hey, may I swab the inside of your mouth?"
That's a consent search.
I have to ask him to do that to get a job done.
The way we do narcotics interdiction with confidential informant bias, you're doing a consent search.
So I came back to legislature in 2021, my colleagues and I came to an agreement and what I said was, I understand, I understand what the Senator just said on car stops and I understand the intent of the 2020 bill.
So what I offered was, when an officer has reasonable suspicion, which is a lower threshold to probable cause, they should be able to solicit consent.
What that does is it stops an officer from asking just Black people or asking everybody for consent, but says, when you have a reason, or in the case of a person, the way we worded it was to further an ongoing police investigation, you could solicit consent.
And that bill came out of the Judiciary Committee bipartisan.
Unfortunately, when it made it to the Senate in 2021, the Senate amended the bill and the reinstitution of asking a person stayed in the bill and that passed so we sort of fixed that, if you will, but the vehicle reinstitution came out in the Senate.
And so as it says today, an officer can't do that.
And why is that important?
Catalytic converter thefts happening, rampant in our state.
In Stonington, the bus garage is at the end of a cul-de-sac and all the school buses are outside oftentimes and naturally, they have catalytic converters underneath them.
If a police officer in Stonington is patrolling at 2:30 in the morning and sees a vehicle coming off of that road and stops the car and there's no real legitimate reason to be down there, that's not probable cause to search the car.
But it's enough reasonable suspicion when the officer knows what's down there, knows there's no legitimate reason to be down there that time of night, knows about the catalytic converter thefts, the officer should be able to say, "May I search your vehicle?"
We also put in the law when we came out, and again, that one did not make it all the way through, but what I have currently before the legislature says that an officer, whether consent is granted or not, has to report it.
And naturally, it's all caught on body camera.
So we can see that the consent was voluntary, et cetera, which is all required.
And we can also track which officers are asking for a consent under what circumstances.
So certainly if you have an officer who is finding reasonable suspicion with only Black operators, you can deal with that officer because that documentation is there.
But it's an important tool in law enforcement to combat not just catalytic converter thefts, narcotic interdiction, firearm interdiction.
Probable cause is a standard that would lead a reasonable person to believe something.
Reasonable suspicion the courts have defined as a a lower standard, which is facts and circumstances lead a reasonable officer based in his training experience.
So the average person may look in the back of a car and see a little rose and some Chore Boy and say, "That's nothing."
And perhaps you're saying to yourself, "Okay, yeah, it's nothing."
But a law enforcement officer knows that those little roses come out of a crack pipe and Chore Boy is used for that.
So that should be enough for an officer to say, "Hey, may I search your car?"
Because they have that training experience.
And we have to talk about too, delineating between police accountability and police restrictions.
Police accountability is holding officers accountable when they do it wrong.
Putting restrictions on good officers trying to do a good job so much that they can't get the job done is detrimental to public safety and I think consent search is a great example of that.
- Let's take a deeper look into criminal justice in our state.
Here's a question submitted by Fairfield University faculty member Aaron Weinstein.
- My name is Aaron Weinstein and I'm Assistant Professor of Politics here at Fairfield.
I'm wondering if you can help me interpret some of Connecticut's crime statistics.
It seems to me like it's a tale of two cities.
On the one hand we seem to be like that shining city on a hill.
Connecticut ranks as the fifth safest state in the nation, is in the top 15 lowest crime rate, and in the top 10 for lowest imprisoned rate.
But on the other hand, not everyone inhabits that shining city.
Connecticut has some of the highest income inequality in the nation.
It also has the fifth highest Black/white incarceration disparity and the second largest Latinx/white disparity.
My question is this, is Connecticut doing as well as those overall crime statistics would suggest or is the state so unequal that it's impossible for us to read anything into the overall statistics at all?
If so, how does this affect the kinds of policy that we ought to pursue?
- Thank you for that question Aaron.
So to the panel, what can we make of those statistics?
What kind of policies does that suggest we need?
We're doing really well on one hand and then maybe not so well on the other.
- I agree, it is the tale of two cities.
What goes on in Bridgeport is not what goes on in Greenwich.
And whether it's Gandhi or whether it's Humphrey, it depends on how you treat the most vulnerable in your society is going to be the sum total of what happens to the entire community.
I believe that's some of the historical fight we've been fighting for a while to say, that things are not equal.
Representative Howard, who's a great person, great officer.
When he talks about a reasonable search, I trust that with him.
But I don't trust that with all officers.
Chris Rock, who's a comedian, said something that is just so profound.
He said, "In some professions we can't have bad apples."
Delta can't say, "You know, we got a few bad pilots who just like crashing planes."
And so I think in some professions we have to make sure that we have quality of people so that the justice you get in Greenwich is the same justice you get in Bridgeport.
As a pastor I stood with young people in court who got into a fight at a club with some white persons.
The white kids went home, the Black kids went to jail.
And so it is a tale of two cities and I think the stats bear that out, where it is good in some places, more challenging than other places.
- And we talk a lot about these statistics.
Is it the statistics that are the concern or perhaps is it that there are other issues that kind of lead to this, right?
We know for instance that arrest rates are correlated with things like income inequality, for instance, educational inequalities.
So is the fix looking at things like criminal justice reform, police reform, what have you, or is it really kind of deep diving the deeper wound of fixing maybe how the resources that are offered to certain communities that just happen to be either underrepresented or under-resourced?
- You know, when folks state statistics like that, I think too many people like to jump and say, "Well, it's 'cause the police are racist."
And do we have racist police officers?
You know, Dr. Stallworth said certain professions can't have bad apples.
Listen, none of us have a crystal ball.
But this profession, and folks should know this too, to join the profession, law enforcement in this state, you go through a rigorous process.
Inequities exist not just in the criminal justice system.
They exist in kindergarten readiness, they exist in poverty, they exist in housing, they exist in healthcare.
So what we passed was a commission.
We created a commission to investigate and make recommendations to alleviate all of those inequities because I think you're right.
I think that in large part, and I'm not going to sit here and say there's not anomalies, but in large part I think that the inequities that exist in the criminal justice system are the fruit of a different tree.
And we are working in the state of Connecticut to address all of those underlying concerns and hopefully to find a more balanced Connecticut that works for everybody.
And again, back to my original point, what happens next?
That we won't be jumping to say, "Well, our police officers are all racist" and then law enforcement won't have that obstacle to overcome anymore and get back to doing the important work that they do which is why this conversation's important.
- One of the things that I'll say is that someone said it much more profound, that when you look at the criminal justice system, you see just us.
African Americans make up over 13% of the general population, but make up overwhelmingly the jail and prison population across our country.
Regardless of what state you look at, you'll see that disparity.
If you look at the state of Connecticut, for example, in 2020 there was a Connecticut Post article that indicated that African Americans make up less than 10% of the Connecticut general population, but yet made up over 42.9% of the jail and prison population with the Hispanic population being at 26.4% and the white population being over 62% of our adults that live in this state are white, made up less than 30% of our jail and prison population.
And while we have made some significant gains in our state around criminal justice reform and helping to close down prison, we have not created pipelines and opportunity and pathways for people to be successful and to really address the systemic issue of poverty in our community.
And that there is a correlation between poverty and crime.
We know that education is the bridge to the future.
It is the cornerstone by which our success so heavily depends upon.
And when you have school districts across our state, school districts like Bridgeport, that is consistently underfunded over $50 million a year and we expect for those students to be on par with students from places like Fairfield, we're doing a disservice.
We have to be able to address the educational disparity that exist in our communities, early childhood education and making more investments there.
It's not a one size fit all.
In fact, it's almost like peeling an onion.
The deeper and deeper you dig, the more stinkier and multilayered it is.
But all of those things happen as a byproduct of America's original set of racism and systemic failures on addressing these issues.
I'm so excited that in 2023 we are beginning to have the honest conversation, but we must level the playing field and we must create more opportunities for our young people.
It's not just a police issue.
But what we do know is that when people come in contact with law enforcement, oftentimes as a juvenile, they later graduate into the larger criminal justice system and they walk around with a scarlet letter.
And many times they are resigned not just to a working class community, they are resigned to a permanent underclass system that perpetuates throughout their lifespan.
They cannot get employment, they cannot get decent wages, they cannot provide for themselves and their families.
And so we have to be able to address all of these issues simultaneously, but with delicacy, being meticulous and methodical in the way in which we move forward, so.
- So I wanna turn now to gun violence.
So a major issue in the US as we know is gun violence.
So research shows that violent crime and gun violence are positively correlated.
Gun violence also has a disproportionate impact on people of color and is highly concentrated in historically under-resourced neighborhoods.
So for instance, in 2020, 12.5% of the US population identified as Black and 61% of gun homicide victims were also Black.
Since 2020, firearms are the leading cause of death among children, this is higher than traffic fatalities and cancer.
And mass shootings are becoming more frequent.
The total number of mass shootings this year is 172, which resulted in 225 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.
On April 15th, we experienced the highest number of mass shootings in one day, seven.
There's a piece of legislation that you both supported in your committee that is regarding community roundtables and funding of community policing programs to combat gun violence.
One of the things that you mentioned earlier, Representative, was this connection with trust.
I'm wondering if that bill is one that might help increase that trust or maybe if there was a different purpose for that bill.
- Yeah, the original bill said that every community had to have these roundtables.
And when I went back to the center and said, "Listen, there's a lot of communities that have zero gun violence and to take those resources and make them have this meeting when there isn't any isn't the best use of resources."
And he said, "You know, you're right."
And what did we do there?
We both came with our individual perspectives and we reached a solution that worked for everybody.
And that's exactly what the roundtable will do.
The idea behind the roundtable is to have members of the community, members of law enforcement and all interested parties, the executive branches of that particular community come and say what is the root cause?
So you pointed out some statistics around race.
So again, I'm gonna say, I don't think that every shooter is a racist when we talk about gun violence.
I think that for socioeconomic reasons, historical and socioeconomic reasons, gun violence is more prevalent in those communities.
And that's something that those individual communities can address on a community-community basis with all the interested parties giving their perspective and coming to a solution similar to the way Senator Gaston and I did on this particular bill.
And the reason that we worked hard on this and I think it's such a great bill, is because oftentimes folks want to jump to blame the gun.
And here in Connecticut we had depending what metric you use, first, second, or third most restrictive gun laws in our country by state.
And individuals think, well, we need to do something about gun violence because of the statistics that you laid out.
And here in Connecticut, I think that our gun laws are as restrictive as they need to be and I would not move to make them any more restrictive.
In fact, I think we need to really get to the heart of the problem.
Four of our major city mayors have recently come together and said the issue is not gun control.
The issue is criminals possessing firearms.
So that's what we need to drill down on.
- I was envisioning this bill very early on as one of its original architects and I do believe in bipartisan support as I know that this issue impacts all communities as I think our society has a over-fetishization with guns and we have to be able to disrupt that pipeline, especially guns being used and infiltrated in poor communities of color.
Just in Bridgeport, we have an issue with gun violence and it's not because everybody in the community is using guns, it's in the hands of those individuals who are reeking havoc on the community.
We need to make sure that we're working hand and glove with law enforcement and our other community partners to identify who these folks are.
We do want to help organizations that are working with our young people and deterring them from street violence and pivoting them towards education or vocational tracks because we do understand the importance of education.
And the more educated the population is, oftentimes the less street level violence and crime that we see.
And so we're trying to really put all of our resources together to ensure that not just our smaller towns are safe, but that our inner cities are also safe and places where people feel they want to grow their families.
- So I want to turn our attention now quickly to a law that was enacted this year on January 1st, the Clean Slate Law.
So under this law, old and low level criminal records are automatically erased if you qualify.
You qualify if you hadn't had a criminal conviction for over seven years and you have finished serving all criminal sentences.
So my question is kind of thinking about how this law will impact us moving forward is what do we think this impact will have on employers and their hiring practices and employment in general?
- I think first intrinsic in this law is the state saying we didn't get it right the first time.
And knowing that some people have received a longer sentence or received a sentence at all because of other social reasons.
So I think that's the first thing that this law does, is to say this is an attempt to get it right.
I hope employers do not take the approach they did with ban of the box.
They discovered another way to find out if you had, you know, the F on your chest, they find out another way.
And so I hope this effort is put forth in such a way that employers are put on check, that they're put on notice that this is not a way to go out and find information in different ways to stop people from having opportunity because everybody needs a second chance, another chance.
I guess I messed up my second chance five seconds after I was born, but all of us need another opportunity, another chance so I'm excited about this law.
I've already been asked by some persons to help in the process.
And so I am excited.
I believe it's a good law, it's good for the state.
- So Dr. Stallworth and I, when he was up there, we disagreed on this law.
You know, we talked earlier about bad apples and then I talked about the extensive process by which one must go through to become a law enforcement officer.
And there are other professions that your past can be indicative of your character, it can be indicative of your future.
And certainly a lot of low level offenses, I think in our current workforce, I think everybody's trying to find anybody they can that can pass a drug test for example, I have contractors tell me all the time, "If I can find somebody that'll show up in the morning, pass the drug test, I'll hire them I don't care what they've done."
So the bill was a bit too expansive for me.
But again, in a bipartisan effort in 2022- '22 when we passed that?
I forget now.
One of those years we did take work together and take a lot of offenses out and I got to a much better place.
But, you know.
- Yeah, I think the Clean Slate is a step in the right direction towards criminal justice reform.
I think that in our country in general, we've seen that in 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, we saw the three strike you're out rule.
We saw that we were really tough on crime, the war on crime, also the war on drugs and what we've noticed is the over sentencing of certain individuals in certain communities and I think that we've sort of are learning from our mistakes on a national level.
And then we also are looking at the state level in the rear view mirror and saying, "Were we too punitive?"
Are we a system that does not restore or rehabilitate?
And I think that as the research show that individuals are likely to come out of prison at some point and we have to ensure that we rehabilitate them and get them to be prepared to be productive members of our society.
And this would give these individuals an opportunity to really pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get a clean slate and a new start.
- So I want to turn our attention to another question that we have.
Isabella is a politics major at Fairfield University and she has this question about her criminal justice system.
- It is clear that our criminal justice system needs massive change, but that's going to take time.
Are there smaller changes you think can be made that will hopefully have a large impact?
If so, what barriers have been preventing these changes in the past?
- Thanks, Isabel.
Representative Howard, let's start with you.
What are some small changes that we can make?
- So I think one of the biggest issues and Dr. Stallworth and both my colleagues here have mentioned this earlier, the tale of two cities.
And what I found in my time in the legislature is we pass sweeping legislation.
Because something is not working well in Bridgeport, rather than say, "Okay, well, it's working great in Stonington, let's expand upon that," we become restrictive on Stonington.
That's really not the way to affect change.
School resource officers is a classic example of this.
I happen to be working an overtime job just yesterday where I was at one of our elementary schools.
Now most of these kids have never seen me in uniform before.
I get nothing but hugs coming through that door.
First, second, third graders run up to me and I have colleagues in the legislature who tell me that police officers in school are intimidating to children.
Well, that's not happening in many towns.
And we need to create a community where law enforcement officers are part of the community on a larger basis.
And does it mean they have to live there?
Certainly that's much more convenient, it makes it easier.
But to enable them to get out of the car and walk around and interact with their community.
And in order to do that we have to do a few things.
One, we have to stop overwhelming them with trying to overcome the obstacles that we've now created.
And we also need to start to limit a little bit what we have our law enforcement officers doing.
So their community interaction is getting more and more limited to only responding to major emergencies or major incidents where people are in crisis.
That is not the best way to do things.
If we're gonna overcome that trust barrier and regain that trust, we need to allow our law enforcement officers to go out and engage their community on the regular.
- I think it's important and mission critical that law enforcement who are policing communities, especially certain communities where there is an issue of distrust between law enforcement and the community, that our police forces also reflect the demographics of those respective communities.
I do have a problem when law enforcement officials get off of Route 8, drive into Bridgeport, have on that uniform, stay there for eight hours or however long, get off their shift and go to a different community altogether.
I do believe that you can still be a great officer without having to live in the community but what I do know is that when you live in a community, when you breathe the same air, when you are involved in the same level of conditions of that community, you tend to have a stronger investment in that community.
- So real quick, I want to turn and I'll come to you Dr. Stallworth here in a second.
I want to turn real quickly to a task force that was enacted in the legislature, the Police Accountability and Transparency Task Force.
They made a couple recommendations and one of 'em that not pulling folks over for secondary offenses.
And I'm just kind of curious 'cause you guys are bringing some really interesting perspectives to the table.
And I'll start with you Dr. Stallworth.
Would something like that be helpful?
Is that one of these small changes or is that not where our focus should be?
- Since 2017, 600 people have been killed by police officers that initiated with a traffic stop.
2015 to 2021, a quarter of the Black persons killed, it was initiated by a traffic stop.
I understand you don't want a light out, maybe someone cannot see, but the flip side of that is the negativity that's growing out of that is destroying a society.
- So I want to turn our attention really quickly to juvenile criminal justice and we're gonna begin this conversation from a question that was submitted by another Fairfield student, Callie, who is a marketing major here.
- How can we ensure that young people who are involved in the juvenile justice system receive adequate resources and support to prevent future involvement in the criminal justice system?
- So who would like to start?
What kind of resources can we give our youth so they don't re-offend?
- Well, I think first of all, just to understand that the system is broken.
In my class this semester, one of the sources I used really had to do with healthcare.
Dr. Mianay, who has this composition on confessions of a black female surgeon that talks about the racism that's embedded in the health system, system is broken.
It's the same with our criminal justice system, especially when it comes to our young people.
It is broken.
If one's brain is not completely rewired, as they say until age 25, why we are not treating persons with that reference, that science in mind?
And so I think we have to put more resources in, especially more community resources.
There are programs I know in Bridgeport, like V.I.P.
and other programs that will be far more productive than incarcerating someone and have a far greater impact.
And so I believe there are some things that we can do to help our young people, but we have to understand that the system is broken and to keep doing what we're doing, we're just working with a broken system.
- There's another question from a student, very similar question and topic, but I wanna definitely make sure that they also have their question heard.
So the second question comes from Catherine.
She's an accounting and finance double major here at Fairfield.
- What are some successful community-based alternatives to detention that have been implemented in other states or countries and how can these approaches be scaled up to have a greater impact on reducing juvenile incarceration rates?
- All right, so not only what are the resources, but also what do we know that works?
Can we beg, borrow and steal from other places that have had some programs that have been successful?
- So I'll say this, everybody wants the magic wand and sometimes we have to face reality.
And the reality is that we are always gonna have people who commit crime.
I wish it wasn't the case, believe me, but that is a fact.
And you can give certain individuals all the resources and opportunities that they want that you wanna give them and they're not gonna take advantage of 'em because that's what they're going to do.
That is a harsh reality.
When you talk about juvenile crime and Dr. Stallworth said the system is broken, the system is broken and it's probably always going to be broken.
And the reason is because you are never going to solve everything.
You are never going to get gun violence to zero.
You're never gonna get juvenile crime to zero.
The reality is every kid's situation is different.
Some people commit crimes for and we've talked about this at length, because of environmental reasons, so is economic reasons.
Some people commit crimes because it's sort of in their DNA, they're just a violent person.
Those individuals exist.
When we talk about kids, we really have to drill down early on and see red flags even sooner than we are.
And we know what they are.
We know when a kid stops coming to school, they need intervention.
We know when a when a kid starts hanging around with the wrong people, they need intervention.
The fact of the matter is, our juvenile justice system in all of the, I'll call the alphabet soup of agencies that are involved in our juveniles, first of all need to communicate better.
But the reality is we have to give all of those programs from the juvenile court on out a wide net to cast.
We have to give them, I don't want to use the word authority, but we have to give them a great array of tools at their disposal.
To invest in a child when they're headed down a bad path at 11 or 12 is significantly cheaper than if they set down that path and you continue with them in the criminal justice system and incarceration and public defenders and on.
So if you are an individual who looks at it from a monetary standpoint instead of a humanitarian standpoint, it's still beneficial to hit these kids young.
But I'll tell you what, one of the biggest gatekeepers to most of those programs, law enforcement.
And my colleagues want to limit the way in which law enforcement can interact with those kids and get 'em into those systems and into those pre-trial diversionary programs that have, by the way, low recidivism rates and high success rates.
Again, I question that.
If the juvenile justice system has these low recidivism rates and high success, and the police officers, the gatekeepers, and why are you trying to keep the police officers from getting kids into it?
Well, we don't want 'em arrested.
It's not an arrest.
They're referred to juvenile court.
So this is the problem where we work against ourselves up there and that's where it gets frustrating and I think we need to overcome that.
- Senator, I want to ask you just to piggyback off all of this, so what can we do to reduce juvenile re-offending?
- Let me just say this.
It's cheaper to send a student to Yale than to send them to jail.
So we have to be able to make investments in our young people.
I do believe in the diversionary programs to divert young people from the criminal justice system by investing in community programs like Dr. Stallworth mentioned, V.I.P., along with others that give students the opportunity to turn from the street and go into a successful pathway.
And I think that all of our young people deserve the equitable opportunity to have the same kind of resources distributed to them.
But to your last question, what was it?
- What can we do to help them not re-offend?
- Yeah, so some of the things I think that we can do to help them not re-offend is engage in mentoring and credible messengers.
Other young people who have gotten into issues in the past and now they're on the straight and narrow.
Pairing them with their peers and saying, "Hey, you're young, you're likely to be rambunctious, you're likely to make certain kinds of decisions, but this is the way that I kind of overcame this.
This is the way that I came out of this."
So I think consistent mentoring.
I also think intervention with engagement with family members as well.
So you can't just address the student sometime without addressing the parental or the guardian being involved in that process as well and putting the resources where they need to be to ensure that it's being reinforced not just in the school setting, but also reinforced in the home setting as well.
So creating opportunities for parents to grow alongside their young people I think is a step in the right direction and one good start to diminishing the crime.
- So I'm gonna shift gears almost completely for a second.
So the political scientist in me can't not talk about, cannot not talk about incarcerated voting.
We know that disenfranchisement is a long history in the US but we also know that only two states do have this.
Do we adopt it?
Do we not?
- The whole idea that you can lose your right to vote to me is just mind blowing.
I attended an undergrad school in Selma, Alabama, and each day I rode across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and to remember how people fought to have the right to vote.
There's a larger evil, if I can use that terminology.
I think evil, I'm not calling people evil, but there's a larger evil at work when we take someone's basic right from them, that should be given to us as an American citizen.
One does not register to vote, that's one thing.
But to take someone's right to vote is just mind blowing to me.
It smells like Jim Crow, it smells like slavery as kind of a second class citizen.
And I don't have to worry about this now, but once legislators know that these persons who are incarcerated have a vote, I just believe that they will give more attention to rehabilitate those persons, to make them productive citizens and not create this permanent underclass.
And so I believe Connecticut should make great strides.
I remember when I was a legislator and the gerrymandering thing was big and where persons want to count inmates in their senate to get funding.
But those same persons sometimes do not want to count them to get votes.
And so the whole idea of being able to lose one vote to me it's mind blowing, it's an American right.
- I would also agree with that.
I think it's a basic fundamental right that human beings have the ability to be able to engage in their democracy and to help select folks to represent them.
We know that politics is the process by which we choose our elected officials and hold 'em accountable to the constituents they represent.
But we have voter suppression and people's voice are quelled and they cannot lift up their voices.
We do know that individuals oftentimes feel hopeless.
And one of the NAACP slogans is a hopeless people.
A hopeless people is a hopeless people.
And when people feel their back is against the wall, they're hopeless.
They feel they've lost everything else.
And one of the things that people do have is a voice.
And I think their voice should be heard, respected, and valued.
I think considering the history of this country, and I had an opportunity to work for the late great Congressman John Lewis, who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge so that people would have a fundamental right to vote.
Talked about that when people go to prison, they come out, they should have their rights automatically restored.
They've paid their debt back to society and they are contributing members to the community and their voices are important.
And so I think that in the state of Connecticut, that's no different.
That we should ensure that everyone have an opportunity and access to the ballot box to vote their conscience.
- So voting is not our only kind of issue for reentry as a mechanism.
Under the current law, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Motor Vehicles commissioners must ensure that incarcerated individuals possess a state issued ID card or a license if they request it and they have to qualify for it and pay the associated fees with it.
So my first question is, why is this so important that when someone leaves prison, that they have these documents?
And then the follow up to that is gonna be, there is a bill that is sitting in the state legislature this session that would alter it a little bit and kind of get rid of the fees and you don't have to request it anymore.
So my second kind of question would be, where do we see this going?
How important is this?
Maybe why was it even being talked about?
So it's a couple part answer.
First, why is this even important?
And then second, what do we think of this proposed amendment?
- Well I'm not in the legislature right now, so I don't have a major impact, but I do have an opinion.
So of course I know and all of us know how important an ID is, but I had no idea until I had a bag that was stolen.
And so my ID is in the bag.
And so I go to the bank to say my bag is stolen, but they want my ID, I don't have an ID.
I go to DMV so I can get a driver's license, but they want my ID, I don't have an ID.
So everyone wants an ID, but no one will give me an ID.
And so I believe it would just be a gesture of goodness, a gesture of hands up, you get out, you automatically get an ID 'cause you can't get an apartment, you can't get anywhere.
You're not gonna be able to get any work until you are able to identify yourself.
So I'm not part of the legislature right now, but I do have an opinion.
- Yeah, no, I would say that this ID issue is very important.
When I was working in the state of Florida, that's one of the first things that I was able to help institute in the state is to ensure that when individuals got out of prison, that they had an ID in hand.
And folks were saying, "Well why is that important?"
Well, it's important because in order for folks to get a job, you gotta have an ID.
In order for you to get a driver's license, you need some form of state ID.
In order for you to open up a bank account, you need a form of ID.
In order for you to get an apartment, you need an ID.
So an ID is crucial in pretty much every facet and aspect of life, you need identification.
And I think that this particular bill is going to ensure that that happens.
I know right now in the city of Bridgeport, we have what we call the Mayor's Office on Reentry Affairs.
That office help individuals that come back into the community, get things like ID and we've partnered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and I think that this is the first program within the state of Connecticut that has happened in terms of that partnership happening through Bridgeport and the Motor Vehicle Department to ensure that individuals who're returning home to Bridgeport, which are about a thousand people annually, receive an ID and we help to pay for those individuals to receive that identification.
I think with this bill, it's gonna help municipalities, especially with people returning home have the appropriate funding to give people to have a hand up when they get out.
- Yeah, he's exactly right.
I mean, they're both correct.
I am not in favor of eliminating people's criminal histories, as I said earlier, but when somebody gets out of prison, I'm certainly not in favor of creating barriers for them to get their life back on track.
And that is a barrier.
You can't do anything without an ID and the cost is ridiculous.
I mean, it's a function of government.
We the government have decided that this individual has committed a crime and we're gonna sentence them to jail.
We're gonna pay for their meals, their lights, their heat, all that stuff the entire time they're incarcerated and we're gonna balk at 15 or $20 to give them an ID to make sure they can get on the right track?
That is a function of government and government should bear the cost.
- So the last topic that I want to touch on tonight is something that we have talked about a little bit, which is kind of the flip side of it.
Not necessarily the offenders or the community, but those who do protect and serve.
So I want to talk about a recent story in USA Today.
Their story was on the mental health of first responders.
And in that story, they noted that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.
So some of the questions that I have surrounding this is, especially maybe do you Representative since you do serve, what is it that plays into the statistic, what can be done to change it?
And then the second part of that is the bill that is in the state legislature right now for 911 dispatchers.
A lot of times they hear those calls and then they never necessarily know the follow up and they're not also in Connecticut, something I didn't know was that they're not considered first responders, they don't have the same benefits and assistance and resources that police and firefighters have.
So I want to kind of close on that note, talking about those who serve and in this environment, how do we make sure that they are okay, both mentally and then how do we help protect our 911 dispatchers?
- Okay, so there's a few things there.
First off, we don't actually define first responder in statute here.
That's one of the underlying issues when it comes to the dispatchers.
One of the big things that they like to talk about in the legislature when we talk about this bill is police officers and firefighters have what they call portal to portal where if I leave work, if I leave home to head to work, I'm covering a workers' compensation on my travel in and whatnot because of my demand to work.
And dispatchers want to be included in that because they're called into work in varying weather conditions, et cetera.
And I agree with them, they should be considered in that.
Everybody who works as a first responder is gonna be subject to some significant mental health things.
I've said it earlier and I've said it many times in my life, police officers are living the worst 10 minutes of everybody's day, all day, every day.
I'll take heroin overdoses as an example.
Going to a heroin overdose and seeing a young person who died far too young is traumatic enough.
I don't think that folks realize, a heroin overdose as an example, as a detective, I may be there four or five hours dealing with a family, with a deceased family member there before the medical examiner's office shows up.
Sometimes it takes that long.
That wears on you.
And I could go on and on about all of the destruction that we see, the devastation that we see, and it weighs on you and your parking garage for that gets full.
I think one of the best ways to handle it, I think police officers are by nature, the helpers.
They don't like to be the helpees and really, our officers, we've gotta break that stigma.
I don't know that it'll ever happen, but we need to.
And I hope folks will take a minute to realize that police officers are people and we lose track of that, right?
It's a uniform, it's a car, it's a badge, it's a profession.
It's the police this, the police that.
We'll have the police carry this, carry that.
Well, they have backs and hips, how much you want them to carry, you know?
And I think that inherently we lose sight of that but I'll say this to you, I think that police officers sometimes lose fact that the public are people because it's like, well, the public or the motorists or the operator, right?
We dehumanize certain things when we start doing that in training or whatever.
And we gotta be careful about that too.
At the end of the day, we're all people.
And I think that whether it's Senator Gaston or Dr. Stallworth or you in the university or any of us, I think we all want the same thing.
I think we want all of the members of this state to be happy and healthy and collaborative and working together.
And sometimes we just disagree about the best way to get there but I thank you for that.
- So as our show closes, I want to also say thank you both for your public service, both in Hartford and in your communities and as a law enforcement officer, as pastors.
Dr. Stallworth, thank you for serving as faculty.
And to our audience, I hope that our discussion tonight on criminal justice reform was informative.
If there is one takeaway that we can have it is that there's still a lot of work to be done.
But while the criminal justice system might not be perfect, we can continuously work toward making it more perfect to echo our preamble.
So thank you panelists.
State Senator Gaston, State Representative Howard, and Dr. Stallworth for your insights on this important discussion and your candor.
This has been a production of Connecticut Public's "Cutline in the Community".
The Fairfield University Master of Public Administration Program would like to thank you and our studio audience and you for tuning in.
I am Dr. Gayle Alberda.
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