Most youth in Connecticut are arrested for simple assault, disorderly conduct, and larceny theft, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
More juveniles are being arrested on drug-related compared to more serious charges, such as violent crime, are in the minority.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently introduced his plan for a ‘second-chance society,’ intended in part to decrease the lengths of prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
“We incarcerate the population way too often for a problem that should be addressed by offering aid for an addiction,” said State Rep. Matthew Ritter, who has been a supporter of Malloy’s plans and legislative actions to implement it.
“Staying in jail for three years instead of getting help just means our incarcerated population is increasing.”
Nearly 800 people between the ages of 10 and 17 were arrested on charges of violent crimes in 2010.
When evaluating arrests among juveniles for violent crime, the towns of Manchester and New London had the highest rates adjusted for population, with 2.7 and one arrests per 1,000 residents respectively. New Haven was a close third with 0.8 arrests per 1,000 residents. Among the towns with the lowest rates were Trumbull with 0.2 and Fairfield with 0.3 arrests per thousand.
Manchester had 146 total arrests of juveniles for violent crime, and New Haven had 101, the highest numbers of any town. Several towns closer to the state’s borders had the least reported arrests. Litchfield, Plainfield, Putnam and North Stonington each had one reported arrest among juveniles for violent crime in 2010.
A total of 99 towns reported zero violent crime among juveniles, though data collected by the state did not specify whether violent crimes in those areas were insignificant or whether existing crime was not reported.
The number of arrests connected to drugs was nearly double that for violent crime in 2010 among youths.
When population size is taken into consideration, Sharon came in at the top of the list with 1.8 juveniles per 1,000 residents charged with possession of drugs. The town of Deep River was second with about 1.7.
New Haven had the highest number of arrests for possession of drugs with 118. Hartford was not far behind with a total of 106. Canaan, New Hartford and East Windsor had the fewest arrests for possession of drugs, with just one reported arrest each.
Towns with small populations can distort the significance of per capita estimates. Sharon, for instance, had the highest per capita rate in the state but there were only four reported arrests.
The hefty price of incarceration is increasingly becoming a concern for taxpayers. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, people who have been incarcerated for drug-related crimes make up 48.7 percent of the U.S. prison population.
The National Association of State Budget Officers reports that taxpayers spend an average of $50 billion annually for state prisons.
Connecticut spent an average of $50,262 annually per incarcerated person — the third-highest average of the 40 states that participated in a study from the VERA Institute of Justice in 2012.
The study determined the total cost per prisoner for each state, taking into account the sums spent for both adult prisoners and youths.
Price per inmate
“I think people are beginning to realize how expensive it is to put juveniles away into detention centers,” said Ritter.
Connecticut is not the only state looking to minimize penalties for people who have been arrested on drug possession charges. New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Delaware were among 11 states that have repealed or shortened the mandatory sentence for non-violent drug possession. A poll conducted in 2014 shows that 63 percent of Americans favored these changes in state drug laws, while 32 percent opposed them.
“We are beginning to see that these ‘get tough on crime initiatives introduced in the ‘80’s haven’t been working,” Ritter said. “To continue the same approach would be a bad idea.”
Senator Gary Winfield argued that the “harsh” penalties for drug use only contribute to the problem. “We don’t want the people who have served their time and redeemed themselves to be stuck, unable to be employed. That only leads them right back into the system,” said Winfield.
Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said, “Often there are underlying problems before a child enters the juvenile training school, either problems at home or at school or what have you.” Anderson added that once they been placed in a training school or detention center, youths often begin using drugs once they are out and are arrested again.
“I don’t know that there’s proof either way in Connecticut to show whether it’s benefitting or harming youth,” said Anderson. “Certainly, on a national level, we’ve seen that incarceration has not been successful, but there are not collective records of how it affects children later in life.”
Anderson said there also are often no records to show which children have been treated for addiction or other illnesses while in a training school. “The data produced is hard to parse out,” she said.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated that drug abuse violations was the most-charged arrest for juveniles. However, the majority of arrests are for simple assault.
TrendCT publishes contributor posts that follow our contributor guidelines.