CHRIS POWELL: Victory for repeat offenders; and nutty Indian mascot law

Published on Friday, 8 April 2022 21:11

Legislators of both parties in the General Assembly are congratulating themselves on the bipartisan juvenile justice bill that has come out of the Judiciary Committee, and well they should. For the legislation will do no more than provide the illusion of action, and thus avoid the controversy about juvenile crime.

Lately that controversy has been mostly a matter of repeat offenders, the most infamous case being that of the 17-year-old charged with the hit-and-run killing of Henryk Gudelski in New Britain last June. Police say the teen was driving a stolen car and had been arrested 13 times in the previous 3½ years but was nevertheless free.

Who was responsible for this seeming failure of juvenile justice?

The legislation won't provide an answer. It will leave juvenile court secret and unaccountable -- unaccountable not just for offenders but also for the prosecutors, public defenders, and social workers who work there.

According to the Waterbury Republican-American, the legislation would increase from six hours to eight the time police can hold a juvenile suspect before applying to a court for a detention order or releasing the suspect to a parent or guardian. It would require quick arraignment and services for juvenile suspects. It would expand special probations for juveniles convicted of murder or first-degree manslaughter, and authorize sentences of as long as five years for juveniles convicted of murder and serious gun and sex offenses.

But few juveniles have been committing murder and rape. Nearly all repeat offenders are committing lesser crimes, especially car theft and other thievery -- and the legislation would give those offenders only more electronic monitoring upon their quick release.

So it may not take the young offenders long to realize they can keep stealing cars and other things even while wearing their ankle bracelets and still incur no punishment.

Indeed, the young offenders may know this already. Last year the Republican-American reported about two juveniles charged with car theft who just laughed through their booking.

For state government's main premise about juvenile offenders is that they must not be punished because they are already too damaged and instead must be basted and coddled with social work no matter how often it fails to reform them.

No one is clamoring to imprison teenagers for shoplifting or minor vandalism. But the repeat offenses by juveniles and adults alike that Connecticut has been suffering signify a lack of accountability -- accountability for both the offenders and the officials who let them know they won't be punished.

And there can be no accountability with juveniles until juvenile courts are as public as adult courts. Refusing to open juvenile courts to scrutiny, the legislature shows it thinks that accountability in government is more dangerous than crime.

* * *

Not many people care much about it, but the prevailing opinion in Connecticut seems to be that sports teams should stop using Indian mascots.

Such mascots are criticized as racist and disparaging, or defended as honoring the tribes of old. But few people are fooled by the latter claim. Indians were chosen as mascots for their supposed ferocity, just like animal mascots -- lions, tigers, bears, hawks, and such.

Indian mascots are not really racist, since no one defending them is really trying to oppress anyone. Rather, such mascots are most objectionable because they stereotype.

But state law on Indian mascots is nutty. First the law penalizes towns whose schools keep Indian mascots, reducing the towns' allotments from the state fund drawn from royalties paid by the two Indian casinos in eastern Connecticut. That is, the law presumes that policy should be determined by the resentments of those tribes.

But then the law exempts towns that get an endorsement for their Indian mascots from a state- or federally-recognized tribe, as if one tribe's endorsement makes Indian mascots tasteful everywhere again.

So to preserve their "Red Raiders" mascot, Derby's school system has gotten an endorsement from western Connecticut's Schaghticoke Tribe, which has only state recognition and might do almost anything to win public favor so someday it might get federal recognition and thus a casino too.

It's all nonsense but politically correct.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Friday, 8 April 2022 21:11. Updated: Friday, 8 April 2022 21:14.