A tip of the hat to John Kelly at Youth Today, who points me to this interesting story out of Connecticut:
Governor Jodi Rell, who promised in August 2005 to shut down the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) in Middletown, has decided instead to expand its population–by more than 100 percent. The school–if you could call it that; it’s a high-security facility with all the trappings of a prison, including high per-inmate cost and high-percentage recidivism rates–currently houses about 100 state wards. The proposed expansion would bring its population to capacity (220 inmates) by 2010.
The politics here are a bit tricky. This is not just a matter of stuffing a juvenile prison with kids who don’t necessarily need to be there. A new state law raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 will send an influx of inmates to the juvenile side when it takes effect in 2010–including some of the state’s oldest and most serious offenders.
According to the Hartford Courant, Rell, a Republican, has “has tried to get funding for three smaller juvenile centers to replace the high-security training school for the past two years,” but the state legislature, dominated by Democrats facing a tight budget and reluctant to spend more on incarceration, has “never endorsed the idea.”
“For two years in a row the governor has proposed funding for the development of three alternate locations that would allow us to close CJTS and open smaller venues,” Robert Genuario, Rell’s budget czar, told the paper. “But each year the legislature turned that request down.”
Now the Democrats are opposing the CJTS expansion. “Democratic Majority Leader Thomas Serra said he and other Democrats will introduce a resolution at the March 3 city council meeting opposing the training school expansion,” the paper reports. “Serra said he also intends to lobby state officials to secure more compensation for Middletown if the expansion goes ahead as planned.”
“We need programs to help sustain children and families trying to succeed in Connecticut, not to build more prisons,” Toni Walker, a Democratic Representative from New Haven, said.
I don’t pretend to know much about the inner workings of the Connecticut state legislature, but it sounds to me like this could be a case of partisanship taking precedence over judgment. What’s good politically for Democrats in the short term, though, may not be in the state’s best interest in the long run. Replacing large-scale warehouses with small-size facilities, as Rell has proposed, is smart policy, not to mention sensible spending. If Democrats are opposed to Rell’s plan to build these new facilities and also opposed to the CJTS expansion, they should put forward an alternative based on community-level programming. That may very well be in the works, but I don’t see it on the table right now. What I see is a stonewall. And rejectionism, in this context, serves an untenable status quo.