Hannah Qu, collaborating photographer
New Haven has launched a new gun violence prevention program aimed at helping formerly incarcerated adults who are at risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence.
On April 14, Mayor Justin Elicker, joined by Community Services Administrator Mehul Dalal and Acting Community Resilience Department Director Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, along with a coalition of community, city, state and federal partners, announced the first phase of new armed violence. prevention initiative by the New Haven Office of Violence Prevention. The initiative, titled ‘PRESS: Reintegration, Engagement, Security and Support Programme’, aims to provide case management support to people returning from incarceration with a current or previous conviction of a crime related to firearms, as well as to gangs or group members who are identified as being more at risk of being involved with firearms. But several local activists argued the initiative was just a band-aid to a problem that stemmed from a lack of social support.
“The theme of the day is working together to solve the challenges our community faces.” Elicker said at the press conference. “This program is very much about what we see, often every week and today the challenges we see are that a smaller group of people are involved in significant problem behaviors.”
In recent years, the city has seen an increase in cases of gun violence.
Twenty-five homicides took place in 2021 – the highest record in 10 years. 347 confirmed shots were fired that year, nearly one a day on average and a 27% increase from the 2020 tally. 274 confirmed shots in 2020 was 81% higher than 151 in 2019. Seventy shots were fired this year, with 20 non-fatal shootings and two homicides, according to Connecticut Against Gun Violence executive director Jeremy Stein.
“It’s a public health crisis.” Stein said. “Despite these numbers, we applaud the City of New Haven for recognizing that something else needs to be done in addition to traditional policing.”
The PRESS initiative is led by the Department of Community Resilience and partners with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office of Connecticut (Project Safe Neighborhoods), Connecticut State Department of Correction (DOC), Connecticut Court Support Services Division (Adult Probation Services), at the New Haven Police Department, New Haven Health Department, Yale New Haven Hospital, Project MORE, Connecticut Violence Intervention Program (CT VIP), and Project Longevity.
The city has held nine public listening sessions, the most recent taking place last Thursday night, to hear from communities most affected by gun violence.
The goals of the initiative are twofold: to reduce shooting incidents by fostering collaboration between partners and violence prevention initiatives, and to “coordinate service delivery for those at high risk of being perpetrators or shooting victims,” according to Elicker.
According to Sosa-Lombardo, the first phase of the program began three weeks ago.
In the first phase, staff from probation, parole, the New Haven Police Department, and the Department of Corrections work together to create a list of recently incarcerated people who may be involved in gun violence. The list will then be distributed to Project MORE, Project Longevity or CT VIP. These groups will work with other service agencies across the city to provide mental health treatment, treatment for substance abuse disorders, housing support, job opportunities and other resources.
At the same time, a database will make it possible to monitor operations and better understand their effectiveness. The New Haven Health Department will lead the tracking and analysis of data to create reports for the program.
“PRESS fills the gap in the post-incarceration safety net,” Sosa-Lombardo said.
According to a press release issued Thursday by Director of Communications Len Speiller, in Phase II of the initiative, the State Department of Corrections will conduct case management with individuals convicted of crimes involving firearms before their release from prison.
In Phase III, he said, an Office of Violence Prevention coordinator will be hired by the city and law enforcement training on social network analysis will take place. Speiller wrote in the release that this training aims to “improve data-driven services and operations.”
The PRESS program will also serve armed offenders on probation and parolees by improving their support for social services and increasing access to prosocial activities.
“With this whole systems approach, we put people at the center, we scale up social services, while law enforcement can focus on targeted deterrence and law enforcement.” said Sosa-Lombardo.
NHPD Deputy Chief Karl Jacobson noted that years ago they tried to match recently released people at the police station with officers, which is not the right approach because “when you get out of jail, the last thing you want to do is go to the police station and meet the police. Jacobson said involving non-police officers in this program is the “right approach.”
New Haven currently has a series of programs that aim to help those at risk of gun violence. Youth Connect focuses on youth at high risk of being involved in violence, Project Longevity works to reduce gang violence by supporting members, and Project MORE provides reintegration services such as housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment services, employment, clothing and others. basic needs.
Asked about the difference between PRESS and existing programs such as Project Longevity and Project Safe Neighborhoods, Sosa-Lombardo said that while Project Longevity helps gang members in the form of calls and conferences, PRESS allows the forces of the order to “dip into existing networks” at Project MORE and CT VIP with case managers, street outreach and peer support specialists.
A number of local activists called the new initiative disappointing in its reliance on law enforcement and its failure to engage in community efforts to prevent gun violence in the city.
Manuel Camacho, youth president of the anti-violence group Ice the Beef and a student at James Hillhouse High School, noted that his organization was not contacted once during the initiative’s planning process, despite a strong activist presence. in the city for over a decade on this issue.
While Camacho applauded the initiative’s intentions to support the reintegration of formerly incarcerated people into the community, he wondered if the priority of “collaboration” would truly be met. He cautioned against a scenario in which the program simply becomes a monopoly between City Hall and statewide organizations like [CT Against Gun Violence] and CT VIP, urging the city to engage a wide variety of groups with experience doing fieldwork in the community.
Like Camacho, Barbara Fair, a social worker and activist with Stop Solitary CT, had not been consulted in the initiative’s planning process and did not know of anyone else who would. She pointed out that the program was the “same old suspects, same old programs” – working with the Department of Corrections, Project Longevity and the police department instead of community groups.
“I was disappointed, as I usually am when these so-called programs come together, because [PRESS] has not focused on addressing the root causes of crime and violence, which are primarily poverty or lack of opportunity, mental illness, addiction, homelessness,” Fair said. “It’s always discouraging to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
Fair told the News that instead of just focusing on rehabilitation after incarceration, the city should also invest in preventing young people from going through the prison system in the first place, as well as addressing injustice and prejudice. races in the criminal justice system. Additionally, Fair said, existing probation and parole programs don’t help residents feel supported, but “instead, they feel controlled.”
During the press conference, Jacobson provided a brief update on the shooting incident which took place outside Reggie Mayo Nursery School on Goffe Street on Tuesday afternoon.
According to Jacobson, 23 shots were fired in total. The three individuals who are suspects and who have been apprehended are all known to the NHPD, and two of them are minors.
“That’s exactly the type of individual that can be supported and retained by this type of program,” Jacobson said. “Someone we know as someone who has a history of engaging in problematic behaviors, whom we want to work on to help prevent future incidents of violence.”
Referencing the same incident, Camacho stressed the importance of initiatives, like those similar to Ice the Beef, that focus on prevention programs and support for young people.
Like Fair, Camacho said PRESS doesn’t seem to be addressing the root causes of the issue at hand. Instead, he argued for an approach that cuts the cycle of violence before incarceration.
“Imagine if it could have been different, if these three teenagers weren’t on the streets but instead in a program that helped foster their passions, dreams and aspirations in life,” Camacho said. “If we have those things, we can really do the job. Often these entities simply overlook this, this simple factor.
The City of New Haven is using US Federal Bailout (ARP) dollars to fund the initiative.