Hearst Connecticut Media. February 1, 2023.
Editorial: Help for ex-prisoners benefits everyone
Connecticut has made significant strides in criminal justice reform in the past decade, with the clearest example the closure of prisons due to falling inmate populations. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that Willard Correctional Institution in Enfield will be closing this year, the latest in a series of moves as the state’s prison population has decreased by 44% since 2012.
But there is always more to be done. Reducing the prison population is important, but just as vital is providing opportunities for people who have been incarcerated. It’s in everyone’s interest to prevent recidivism, for several reasons. One is that it means less crime. It also means less expense, because everyone pays for the machinations of the justice system.
A planned facility in Bridgeport aims to provide a means to those ends.
The Bridge on Main, planned in downtown Bridgeport, would serve as a center for helping formerly incarcerated people get their lives back on track. “We want to provide as many services that the community can hit under one roof, predominantly really focusing on those that are returning citizens or justice-involved,” said Scott Wilderman, president and CEO of Career Resources.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was among a bipartisan group of dignitaries who visited the site this week, and stressed the economic importance of bringing people back into the workforce. With thousands of jobs unfilled in Connecticut, the state needs to use any means necessary to get people working and keep the economy moving.
The idea is to open the facility in 2025, but there’s a long way to go. Public and private funding is still being lined up, and there’s plenty of work to do before it can start serving the community. The need for those services, however, is already here.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t backlash expected. Any time services for formerly incarcerated people are proposed, there are complaints that priority should first go to people who haven’t broken any laws. A lot of people need help, in other words, so why should this population get to be first in line?
The answer is that there’s nothing simple about providing help, and there will always be a debate about priorities. One thing we know, however, is that simply letting people out of prison and telling them to fend for themselves doesn’t work. It is much too easy to fall back into old patterns, which leads to more criminality and reduced safety for everyone.
Helping people get back to work fills an important need for the Connecticut economy, but it’s also the right thing to do. When sentences have been served, people’s criminal status is not supposed to follow them their whole lives. There is much less hope of building a new future if past sentences are going to be an obstacle at every step.
That’s the thinking behind such laws as Clean Slate, which erases certain nonviolent crimes from a person’s history after a few years have gone by without any trouble. It gives people a fresh start.
That’s what the Bridge on Main is about. It’s to everyone’s benefit that it has a chance to succeed.
Bangor Daily News. February 2, 2023.
Editorial: Stay warm. And if you can, help others stay warm, too.
Mainers are used to the cold. Maine winters have conditioned us to expect, maybe even welcome the cold and snow.
We are not used to the type of cold arriving Friday, however.
It’s not just a dreary forecast, it’s a potentially dangerous one. Vanessa Corson of the Maine Emergency Management Agency told Maine Public on Wednesday that temperatures are expected to dip into the negative 30s and 40s with wind chills.
“The cold temperatures that we’re expecting on Friday and Saturday only happen about once in a decade, and we haven’t seen this kind of weather since about 2016,” Corson said. “So we’re urging Mainers, this is the time that you want to be indoors.”
State and local leaders have been rightly raising alarm bells this week, cautioning people to be careful in this extreme cold, providing advice and pointing to resources for those who need help staying warm.
“Temperatures this weekend will be extremely – and dangerously – cold across the state,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement Tuesday. “Please take extra precautions, be careful if you go outside, and be sure to check on your family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they are okay. MEMA will be working closely with county emergency agencies and local partners to support warming centers.”
MEMA and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention have amplified information from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about hypothermia and frostbite along with tips for dressing in cold weather from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to the U.S. CDC, hypothermia victims are often older people without adequate food, clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold rooms; people outdoors for long periods of time; and people who drink alcohol or use drugs. Frostbite risks increase for people with poor blood circulation or inadequate clothing for the cold temperatures.
“If you have to be outside this weekend, remember to take care, and dress for bitter cold weather. Frostbite and hypothermia are real risks when temperatures are this extreme,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, soon to depart the Maine cold, said in a Thursday statement. “If you start experiencing signs or symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, it’s important to get inside immediately.”
Various officials and organizations have also provided advice on how to try to avoid emergency situations at home from heating devices or frozen pipes. Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Andrew Emery told News Center Maine that people should keep extra heaters three feet away from other objects and avoid trying to thaw frozen pipes with a torch or open flame. For people running heat pumps in their homes, Sean LaPlante of LaPlante Electric said to keep them clear of snow and debris, and to turn them slightly higher than normally set and leave them at that temperature.
These and other tips are important for people trying to stay warm at home these next few days. Above all, this extreme cold is another bitter reminder that far too many Mainers don’t have access to warmth and shelter — this week and throughout the year. Among all the advice and support, the most critical will be the local warming center and shelter services that will help soften the blow of these cold days for vulnerable Maine people.
Here in Bangor, as Bangor Daily News reporter Kathleen O’Brien has outlined in detail, there are existing and expanding daytime, overnight and 24-hour shelter and warming center resources.
Anyone in need should look for information about local warming centers and shelters. And anyone with the means to help should consider donating resources or their time as volunteers.
There will be a need for individual generosity in the next few days, yes. There is also a continual need for more policy action statewide. Maine needs more housing, of all types. We need more support for our unhoused and underhoused neighbors. Counties and local governments need to fully send long-held American Rescue Plan Act funds to the rescue. Collective investment, in addition to personal kindness, will be key to weathering this and future cold together.
Boston Globe. February 2, 2023.
Editorial: Bye-bye, Jim Lyons. Can the MassGOP remake itself now?
The surest way to win elections is to recruit electable candidates. But the ousted head of the state party seemed to view losing as a badge of honor.
We won’t have Jim Lyons to kick around anymore, after the Massachusetts Republican Party chairman lost his quest for a third term in a close vote of GOP state committee members on Tuesday night. That’s good news — and not just for state Republicans, whose party suffered a string of defeats under Lyons’s four years of disastrous leadership. Massachusetts needs at least a semblance of political competition to be a vibrant democracy. And despite all its obvious flaws, the GOP is the entity most likely to provide it. Under their new chair, Amy Carnevale, Massachusetts Republicans should prioritize recruiting candidates for local and legislative elections who can provide plausible alternatives to the state’s dominant Democrats.
Lyons, a former state legislator, leaves behind a party in tatters. Its coffers are drained, it’s lost tens of thousands of voters, and it faces legal scrutiny for potential campaign finance violations. Worst of all, its candidates were shellacked in November: the GOP gubernatorial nominee lost badly, and its already-tiny contingent in the Legislature shrunk even more. Part of Lyons’s problem was political: He embraced far-right conspiratorial nonsense that’s anathema to mainstream voters. But Lyons also seemed to simply reject the premise that the purpose of political parties is to win elections. “At first, let it be clear, we’re not going to win and even in most elections, we might lose,” he said Tuesday — as if it were a point of pride.
As entertaining as the woes of the Republicans have been for Democrats, nobody should be happy with this state of affairs. Uncontested elections — few Democratic legislators even had opponents in November — breed arrogance. They also leave a large chunk of the state — even Donald Trump got 32% of the vote in 2020 — feeling alienated from the political process and unrepresented in state government.
Carnevale, a state committee member from Marblehead and a Trump supporter, is hardly a liberal. She has touted her work on conservative planks in the state party platform, including opposition to abortion. What makes her different from Lyons isn’t policies or politics; she evinces a different fundamental understanding of what a political party is for. “It is not enough just to be showing up with strong ideas,” she said Tuesday. “We have to win elections.”
To that end, Carnevale says she intends to professionalize the GOP’s operations and take common-sense steps that would help it compete, such as embracing mail-in voting.
The surest way to win elections, though, is to recruit electable candidates. And that, inevitably, means a bigger tent approach than Lyons ever tolerated. There are a handful of places in Massachusetts where hard-right candidates like those preferred by Lyons might be able to prevail. But the reality is that in most of Massachusetts, Republicans need to run to the middle to have any shot at victory. The party needs to embrace a range of candidates — including those who reject Donald Trump. Lyons treated centrists as “Republicans in name only” that needed to be purged; Carnevale should see them as opportunities to expand the party’s coalition. There are plenty of centrist or conservative-leaning voters in Massachusetts who might be willing to vote for Republican candidates who distance themselves from the national party but who will never vote for a candidate spewing far-right talking points.
Indeed, that’s been the MassGOP’s playbook for success in recent decades. Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Massachusetts for years, but that hasn’t stopped GOP candidates like Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker from winning statewide elections. The party took a first step toward reclaiming that legacy on Tuesday. But the divisions inside the party remain, and it will fall to Carnevale to keep the focus on winning votes and restoring a two-party system in Massachusetts.
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. January 30, 2023.
Editorial: Rebuilding our trust
All weekend, the news cycle continued to overwhelm us with apt outrage over Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter with police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.
The video is disturbing, sickening in its brutality. The five Black officers have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in the Jan. 10 death of Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and FedEx worker. He also was the father to a 4-year-old boy.
The scenario has become far too common. According to The Associated Press, nationwide, police have killed roughly three people per day consistently since 2020, according to academics and advocates for police reform who track such deaths.
“The world is watching us,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told the AP. “If there is any silver lining to be drawn from this very dark cloud, it’s that perhaps this incident can open a broader conversation about the need for police reform.”
The Nichols’ case is another glaring reminder that efforts to reform policing have failed to prevent more flashpoints in an intractable epidemic of brutality.
In an effort to get out ahead of criticism being leveled at law enforcement, several Vermont police agencies and stakeholders in law enforcement issued statements condemning the action, but — more to the point — used the moment to reiterate steps that have been taken at a local level.
Williston Police Chief Patrick Foley noted, “The agonizing video depicting the vicious beating and subsequent murder of Tyre, by those who took an oath to protect and serve, shocks the conscience and defies everything this profession stands for. … The release of the body worn camera footage will no doubt be met with outrage, disdain, and frustration. … The behavior of those officers charged with Tyre’s murder goes against every principal of the law enforcement profession and is in direct contradiction of the dedication and sacrifice of the vast majority of our law enforcement communities who strive to protect and serve. The Williston Police Department strives each day to build trust, and events such as this is a sobering reminder of how quickly that can be lost. We remain committed to protect and serve and to maintaining a safe and secure community in Williston.”
Acting Burlington Chief of Police Jon Murad wrote in a statement: “The videos showed what courts will likely confirm it to be: murder. It did not look like policing as I know it; it looked like criminality run amok. I condemn it. It sickened me. … In those videos there is nothing of the noble profession to which I and the people with whom I work have dedicated our professional lives. There is nothing of the obligation we have to our neighbors, to keep people safe. There is nothing of the good work that officers perform every day around the country, but particularly here in Burlington, with integrity and compassion. Instead what I saw was egregious and excessive and indefensible.”
Murad included a separate statement breaking down the city’s ongoing efforts to “ensure that such a crime never happens here.” It includes specific processes toward oversight and checks and balances.
Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police issued his own condemnation, stating in part, “These officers failed in their basic humanity, betrayed their oaths and tarnished not only their own badges but those of police officers everywhere. I applaud the authorities in Tennessee for bringing murder charges so quickly because murder is the only way to characterize this terrible attack. … I know I speak for every member of the Vermont State Police, sworn and civilian, in expressing our anger over this incident and our collective call for an end to police brutality and excessive force.”
Birmingham noted that following the murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis nearly three years ago, the Vermont State Police “doubled down on its longstanding commitment to fair and impartial policing. Troopers receive extensive training on de-escalating potentially volatile situations. They are required to provide first aid to anyone in medical distress. They must intervene if they witness acts of excessive force committed by fellow troopers. Additionally, VSP is committed to ensuring that victims and community members have access to professional support if they experience harm or face a mental health crisis.”
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison called on police agencies across the state to fundamentally reexamine themselves and commit to stopping excessive force from occurring in their ranks.
“I call on every police leader to reflect on how we are selecting, training and supervising our officers. If our officers cannot see the humanity in every person they interact with, they do not deserve to wear the badge. Our officers must be capable of self-regulation, compassion and integrity to intervene when they see something wrong,” she stated.
Nationwide, states approved nearly 300 police reform bills after Floyd’s murder, creating civilian oversight of police, more anti-bias training, stricter use-of-force limits and alternatives to arrests in cases involving people with mental illnesses, according to a recent analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland. In a joint statement from the Vermont Criminal Justice Council and the Vermont Police Academy, “There are no excuses for these types of police actions. The officers involved have betrayed their department, their oath of office and brought shame on every law enforcement officer nationwide who works diligently to protect the communities being served.”
The statement goes on to say the Vermont overseers “will continue to engage with community stakeholders in ways that align with our values: protection and preservation of human life, treating all with dignity and assuring accountability for each of us.”
Let’s hope that actions speak louder than words.
Rutland Herald. January 31, 2023.
Editorial: A growing concern
Raising children is challenging enough. For working families, finding child care can be a difficult and expensive obstacle. It is taking a toll on our state — and our nation.
A new government analysis shows that child care is unaffordable almost everywhere across the country, and single parents and parents below the poverty line are particularly impacted.
The newly launched National Database of Childcare Prices provides child care prices in 2,360 U.S. counties. The data show that child care expenses are untenable for families throughout the country and highlights the urgent need for greater federal investments, the U.S. Department of Labor announced last week.
In the issue briefing issued Jan. 24, it states, “Families with younger children in the United States pay a lot of money for child care. Whether it is after-school care or full-day care for infants, child care consumes a large share of family income among those who pay for childcare services.”
Families are putting, at minimum, 8% of their incomes toward child care costs, according to a Department of Labor report from the U.S. Women’s Bureau.
For families with one school-age child, home-based child care costs a median of 8% of that family’s income in counties with populations between 1 to 99,999 and 9.9% for very large counties with populations of at least 1 million. Similarly, for infant center-based child care, the shares are 12.3% for small counties with a population of 1 to 99,999 and 19.3% for very large counties.
Closer to home, the share of median family income in Washington County is estimated at $15,593, or 17.8%; in Rutland County, the share of median family income is $11,907, or 15%.
In 2018, the year with the most recent data available on child care costs, median prices ranged from $5,357 in 2022 dollars for school-age home-based care in counties with populations between 1 to 99,999, to $17,171 in 2022 dollars for infant center-based care in counties with a population of at least 1 million.
Individuals running for public office in the November 2022 General Election got an earful about the state of child care facilities across Vermont: Demand far exceeds supply, and between the housing crisis and families not being able to find child care, Vermont is scaring away families hoping to relocate here. Child care easily made most Vermonters’ list of legislative priorities.
As part of his proposed $8.4 billion state budget, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he is dedicating $56 million more, which would amount to $120 million annually, to expand access to child care and afterschool programs. The governor said he would do that through revenue growth and not a new tax.
“We can expand our child care subsidy to cover families at 400% of the federal poverty level, giving thousands more kids the early care and learning they need,” he said in his budget address.
Advocates for Vermont families and children have argued the governor’s plan does not go far enough.
National advocates might agree.
“All across the country, families are facing burdensome childcare expenses. The last few years have highlighted the tension parents experience when they need to go to work to provide for their families, but have difficulty doing so if they can’t access affordable child care,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “The National Database of Childcare Prices shows that — where childcare prices are high — mothers are less likely to be employed outside the home, even in places with higher wages. Reducing out-of-pocket childcare expenses for families would support higher employment, particularly among women, lift more families out of poverty, and reduce disparities in employment and early care and education.”
Chun-Hoon says the report is a wake-up call for policymakers and lawmakers when it comes to potential economic impacts of child care affordability.
“(This data) will give policymakers and advocacy organizations a tool to combine county-level childcare prices with local employment and economic indicators. By doing so, we can understand better the needs of working families and the impacts of a lack of affordable, accessible care infrastructure in their communities,” she said.
Meanwhile this week, KinderCare Learning Companies released the results of its 2023 Parent Confidence Report, a national study conducted by The Harris Poll which found that while parent confidence remains high, working parents increasingly expect more child care support from employers and the government. The results shed light on the ways working parents view the future of work, and just how heavily child care affordability and accessibility weighs on them, both mentally and financially.
The survey found nearly four out of 10 parents report that they work from a hybrid work environment and more than four out of 10 parents saying that hybrid work is their ideal scenario, up 5% in just a year. Additionally, six out of 10 working parents say there is a disconnect between the level of support they need and what benefits their employer provides. As a result, more working parents are rethinking their professional lives — switching jobs, scaling back hours, even quitting — because quality child care is too difficult or expensive to secure.
That is a lot of stress on working families. Bigger, bolder steps need to be taken to resolve this quagmire, not just for the sake of our children, but for the long-term growth of our state.