Racial Justice

The Center’s Racial Justice Project represents youth of color. Our attorneys advocate for new laws and changes to systems and policies to address racial inequities in education, school discipline, access to behavioral health services, and treatment in the juvenile justice system.


Protecting the Rights of Youth of Color

Connecticut youth of color are subjected to policies and practices that result in educational disparities and juvenile justice involvement. Through legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, litigation and collaborative work with communities and agencies, the Center identifies and reforms policies and practices that result in racial inequity.


Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System

The Center for Children’s Advocacy and the National Center for Children’s Law and Policy co-chair Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) committees in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury. Committee members include local and state stakeholders who work to reform policies and practices that result in youth of color being treated differently by the juvenile justice system.

Systemic reforms have 


Reducing Arrest with Youth–Law Enforcement Training 

The Center is working in partnership with the Judicial Department’s Court Support Services Division, the Department of Children and Families and community facilitators to help law enforcement understand adolescent development, traumatic stress reactions and the experiences of youth of color in their interactions with officers – to help defuse interactions that could escalate into arrest. Discussions focus on bias and stereotypes, suggestions from each group to encourage positive outcomes, and the impact of mental health challenges and psychological trauma on youth behavior.

Education and effective communication are key to an encounter that remains calm rather than escalating into conflict. Interactions between officers and youth of color determine whether youth remain in the community or return to the juvenile justice system. Day-long sessions have taken place in Hartford, Middletown, New Haven and Waterbury, with a focus on youth who are on parole or probation. 

Youth who have participated in these workshops express more positive perceptions of law enforcement and new respect for officers. Officers report a better understanding of mental health challenges and the impact of trauma on youth behavior.


Increasing Equality of Educational Opportunity

As co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Sheff v. O’Neill, the Center’s Racial Justice Project continues to represent Hartford children to provide equal educational opportunity to children of color. 


Improving Alternative Education Programs 

The state’s Alternative Education programs disproportionately serve children of color. Thousands of students are moved to schools that operate with little accountability and inferior educational supports. 

The dropout rate at some programs was almost 90%. Working with education officials, legislators, teachers and families, the Center spearheaded reform of Connecticut’s alternative education programs. 

In 2014, the Center wrote and secured passage of PA 13-122, which required the State Department of Education (SDE) to evaluate each of the State’s Alternative Education programs. See Guidelines for Alternative Education Settings, SDE, Oct, 2016.

In 2015, the Center wrote and secured passage of PA 15-133, which requires Alternative Education programs to provide the same supports as regular schools and provide reports about their programs to the SDE. The Racial Justice Project is monitoring schools’ adherence in multiple cities and working with the SDE on development of statewide guidelines for Alternative Education programs.





Leon Smith, Esq.
Director, Racial Justice Project

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