Part of this job is sticking up for populations that have no voice in the political process, no lobbyists pushing their agenda, and no seat at the governing table in places like Washington and Hartford. For me, I believe that it is simply unacceptable for a country with 5% of the world’s population to hold 25% of the world’s prison population. We lock up too many people, wasting lives and taxpayer money. And the most egregious policy is to lock up kids, sometimes no older than 11 or 12, when better alternatives exist to address their delinquent behavior.
I am working to dramatically change our juvenile justice policies so that more states enact reforms like we have in Connecticut. Our state has made significant progress in diverting more kids away from prison and into community services when they get in trouble with the law, and uses evidence-based rehabilitation strategies for the small subset of children who do have to be incarcerated.
Over the past few years I’ve worked to introduce legislation focused on at-risk youth. My Better Options for Kids Act would incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve outcomes for youth.
In the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the law that governs education policy in our elementary, middle, and high schools - I fought to ensure states can use measures of school climate and safety, including rates of suspension and expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-based arrests, in their accountability systems. States now must also develop plans to reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions, like seclusion and restraint, which pose a risk to student health and safety.