NO BRAINER: OVERRIDE VETO OF ‘KIDS OF THE INCARCERATED BILL’

The state General Assembly is considering an attempt to override Gov. Rell’s veto of a bill that would fund a study of children of people in state prisons. There are two key questions on the override issue: Should the study be save? And can it be? The state senate appears to lack the required votes.

On the first count, it seems a no-brainer that this $1.3 million initiative should be saved. Studies show that intervening in the lives of locked-up parents and their children benefits society with reduced recidivism, less chance of the children following the parent into jail and the promotion of healthy child development (National Conference of State Legislatures).

If one wants to look at the issue from a purely economic perspective—which one shouldn’t—but the Rell administration and the Hartford Courant editorial page have, the bill would save money in the long run when program is developed as a result of the study. A short-sighted veto of funding now may very well result in millions being spent down the road on the children having an increased chance of ending up with a screwed-up life—in prison, treatment or adding to crime.

Just who are the children whose parents are incarcerated? The answer is stunning. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study released in August of 2008, 2.3 % of the nation’s population of children under the age of 18 has a parent in jail. The number of kids with a father in prison increased an eye-popping 77% nationwide since 1991 according to the BJS study.

Even more troubling is the fact that one in every 15 black children across the U.S. has at least one parent in jail. One in every 41 Hispanic children has a parent locked up. These startling statistics alone are reasons enough to override the veto. These are national numbers and not Connecticut-specific but certainly indicates the depth of the problem in general.

The second issue attached to a potential override is more pragmatic. Are the votes there? Apparently not in state senate. The bill passed 19 to 14. Two Democrats were absent. But even with those two votes, the would fail. 24 votes are needed. Some senators would have to change minds heir vote to get the job done. It makes no sense to even hold a special session if the votes aren’t there. House Minority Leader Larry Cafero says it costs $10,000 a day for a special session. So Senate Dem. leadership and staff should start counting heads and maybe twisting arms. These kids need the state’s help. It’s cost effective and it’s morally right.

Many people think because the Democrats hold 24 seats in the state senate (a so-called “veto-proof majority”), they can snap their fingers and override any of Gov. Rell’s vetoes. It doesn’t work like that. Having so many senators in the Dem. caucus, by definition, means a greater diversity in the demographics of their constituencies. This means districts with Democrats representing them in the senate often have differing, at times even competing, interests. What’s good for Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport may not be good for Brooklyn, Guilford or Stamford. It’s makes holding all 24 votes difficult.

This doesn’t seem to be the case with the “children of the incarcerated” bill. It helps the children, the parents and society in general.
*
Hartford police and school officials continue to be at odds as the the extent of the “gang problem” in city schools. Or the “clique problem.” Or the “hanging-out together” problem. Whatever the problem may actually be.

At issue is a police memo, used to secure a $500,000 federal grant, that said the city was “infested” with more than 130 know gangs and that the middle school playgrounds had a “prison yard atmosphere.”

Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski disputes the memo’s characterization. From the outside it would seem to make sense that the police would have a better chance of securing the grant if they said the problem was extreme. The only problem is, once the memo got out, it became incumbent upon them to show that in fact, the problem was extreme. It’s tough to come up with a plan of action if the people in charge can’t agree on the extent of the problem.

In this case, the city’s school children would ultimately be better off if the discussion was about how to attack the problem (whatever it’s depth) and spend the money rather than bickering about whether a group of kids constitute a gang or just a group of kids.