This state locks up more minors in adult prisons than any other state in the nation, according to a study released recently by the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, D.C.
Judicial officials try to justify this abnormality on grounds that Connecticut is one of only three states - the other two being New York and North Carolina - that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
But Connecticut's level of incarcerating juveniles as adults is disproportionate even among those three states. In 2005, Connecticut, with 3.5 million residents, had 383 inmates under the age of 18 serving time in adult prisons. New York, with 19.5 million residents, had 223. And North Carolina, with a population of 8.6 million, jailed 169 children as adults.
As if that weren't bad enough, a disproportionate number of youths sent to adult prisons in Connecticut are African American and Latino - 80 percent.
These minority group youths are only 30 percent of the overall 16- and 17-year-old population and make up only 39 percent of all juveniles charged as adults. White youths accused of the same crimes, in other words, are far less likely to see prison time.
An overwhelming majority of youth arrests that wind up in adult court are for minor, nonviolent offenses. Only about 5 percent of youths who serve prison time as adults were convicted of violent crimes.
Yet, youths jailed as adults are more likely to commit additional crimes, be sexually abused or commit suicide than young offenders sentenced to juvenile facilities. Setting kids up for a lifetime in and out of prison also costs more in terms of tax dollars and in the harm it does to the state's economy.
The solution is to pass a pending bill that raises the age of adult incarceration to 18 except in those very infrequent cases where 16- and 17-year-olds commit violent crimes.
It's time that Connecticut stopped making the vast majority of juvenile offenders pay with their lives for the violent crimes of a tiny few.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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