New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski is launching a pilot program to connect children who have experienced trauma with treatment options, which Preleski described as a long-term effort to lower crime.
“There’s not going to be a change tomorrow in what we see happening on the street,” Preleski said. “What our hope is, is that five and 10 and 15 years down the road, we’re going to see a change by sensitizing parents and adults in these kids’ lives by following up with them and by connecting them to the services that they need to better cope with the trauma that they’ve experienced in their communities.”
Preleski announced the initiative, known as The State’s Attorney’s Violence Eradication and Disruptive program, or SAVED, at a press conference on Thursday.
SAVED is modeled after the Open Doors Program in Montgomery Alabama, which was established in 2020. It will be piloted in New Britain and its surrounding cities during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
The program is funded through the Division of Criminal Justice’s existing budget, Preleski said. John Walker, a retired police officer and senior pastor of the Saint James Missionary Baptist Church, will serve as the program’s Violence Prevention Interventionist.
Walker said he wants to provide a support system for the children and foster relationships with them.
“We need to impress upon them that they are loved,” Walker said. “They matter. They are important. We have to pour into them now so that they’ll know that they are necessary for our future.”
Walker said he will visit schools and homes of children who may be affected by trauma to see if he can provide different resources, whether that be counseling or other various supports the program may offer. Walker said he is particularly interested in finding out which kids are frequently truant so he can gauge whether they are in need of SAVED services.
Preleski said just because a child isn’t physically hurt during violence doesn’t mean they won’t be affected by it. For instance, he said, children who witness shootings can be emotionally impacted even if they escape physical harm.
“They’ve just witnessed an incredibly traumatic event, they have seen someone who probably they know, get shot, they may very well know, the shooter too,” Preleski said.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who has been critical of the state’s response to juvenile crime after a teen was charged in a fatal hit-and-run that took place in New Britain last year, said the program is focused on addressing juvenile crime rates.
“You can’t fix the problem of repeat juvenile offenders if you’re not taking [care of] it right at the beginning, targeting these students and speaking with them on the problems that they face and talking to them about how to work through it,” Stewart said. “This is about becoming a best version of themselves.”
New Britain Police Chief Christopher Chute said the police department knows children and young adults are frequent witnesses to traumatic events.
“It’s a daily basis that we’re seeing this, and being able to intervene and really get ahead of some of these issues and [the program will] give these kids and adolescents coping skills so that they don’t fall down the wrong path,” Chute said.
Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould said the goal of the program is to help vulnerable, at-risk children before they commit crimes and wind up in the justice system.
“We always say that if you’re doing the same thing, and not getting different results, we got to do something different,” Gould said. “And that’s what this program is all about.”
Gould said Connecticut should be doing all it can to help local children.
“One thing we all have in common here is we all have children in our communities, we have children ourselves. They’re our investment, they’re our future,” Gould said.
Christina Quaranta, executive director of Connecticut Justice Alliance, said the effort speaks to prosecutors’ broader goal to pursue ‘justice,’ which does not always mean putting someone behind bars.
“Just because someone might not be on the defense side of an argument or viewed as being on your side, they’re still trying to solve …a root issue [as]to why young people might become involved in the youth or criminal legal system,” Quaranta said.
Quaranta said she would like to see the program administrators define trauma broadly and understand there are many things that could be traumatic to a child. For instance, she said, children of color experience trauma just in the course of living their everyday lives.
When traumatized children grow up, they too are at risk of winding up in prison, said Quaranta.
“Probably the person who is a perpetrator was also a victim at some point,” Quaranta said. “So I think if we could address everybody’s trauma, and not pick and choose what we want to talk about, and what we want to look away from, that would be very important.”