By Stephen Knight
Wallingford residents were greeted with the news on Wednesday that four teenagers have been arrested and charged with destroying the Doolittle Park playscape last October. Congratulations to the Wallingford Police Department and the Wallingford Fire Marshal’s office for compiling enough evidence that pointed to these four as being the culprits.
Of course, these four alleged juveniles are innocent until proven guilty of the alleged torching of the playscape, but if these four alleged arsonists are found guilty, more than a few residents of this town would like to see them serve jail time.
But it likely won’t happen. As Wallingford Police Chief John Ventura noted in a statement, there has been a 165% increase in unspecified “issues with juvenile behavior.” The key drivers in this increase are the numerous policy changes in the handling of juvenile crime. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Wallingford Magazine’s Holiday 2022 issue:
“A good example of such change is how what used to be known as ‘juvenile delinquents’ are dealt with in the criminal justice system. Two very effective programs, the Family with Services Needs and the Youthful Offender Program, have been either eliminated or transferred. Here is a brief quote from the Town of Mansfield CT that will serve as an explanation: ‘In an effort to divert Connecticut youth from the Juvenile Justice System, the Connecticut Youth Services Association (CYSA) has worked with the state to take over referrals that have historically been sent to the court systems and the Department of Children and Families. This includes referrals for truancy and Family With Services Needs (FWSN). These referrals are now sent to your local Youth Service Bureau (YSB) as a community hub to complete an intake evaluation to support the youth and family in accessing services to help address underlying needs contributing to referral behaviors. This approach recognizes the complex nature of these ongoing challenges, that families as a whole are doing their best to address, and might need additional supports to help a young person navigate toward success instead of trying to scare them with threat of punishment into making better choices.’ (https://www.mansfieldct.gov/2049/Truancy-Family-With-Service-Needs-Referr).”
Once you wade through the socio-babble from the Town of Mansfield piece, you come to the conclusion that consequences for bad behavior are out, and trying to understand what the poor child is going through is really in. And, based on what Chief Ventura told me for that article, the poor misunderstood darlings quickly learn that they can operate pretty much with impunity, as illustrated by the disrespect and belligerence that they show police officers when questioned about their behavior.
Another grave mistake was raising the age that teenagers are considered juveniles from 16 to 18. Police officers around the state warned that doing so would have consequences, and we are seeing that now. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds — who at one time would have been prosecuted in adult court for their crimes and have had their names splashed all over the media — now go to the “juvie court” where they get a “Now, now, you mustn’t do that again” slap on the wrist and remain anonymous. They’re back on the street, consequence-free.
Now, if you read mainstream media and stats from the State of Connecticut, all these reforms are really working and driving crime to new lows. But when you read about three juveniles arrested for purse-snatchings in Walmart and ShopRite parking lots on Dec. 12 (in a stolen car) and three teens arrested for crashing stolen vehicles around Exit 13 on Interstate 91 on Jan. 10, one might question the validity of these rosy pronouncements. Looks like the criminals first steal their transportation and then head for suburbs such as Wallingford.
So I despair that these four alleged criminals will suffer little or no consequences for causing $69,308 in fire damage to the Doolittle Park playscape. And we, the public whose peace of mind was shaken by this crime, will never, ever hear the result of the court proceedings. That is the new kind and gentle justice system here in Connecticut.
Doesn’t it make you feel safer already?
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.