Last month New Britain tragically lost one of its own at the hand of a juvenile criminal who was roaming free and recommitting crimes due to the almost nonexistent consequences for underage criminals here in Connecticut. Henryk Gudelski was struck by a stolen vehicle while out on an evening run and died. Henryk was a father, a husband and a beloved member of our vibrant Polish community here in New Britain.
The driver of the stolen vehicle that struck and killed Henryk was a 17-year-old man who had been arrested 13 times in the past 3½ years. The broken juvenile justice system in this state put this repeat offender back out on the street without access to effective rehabilitative programs, strict supervision, or the deterrent of real consequences. As a result, he continued committing crimes that this time resulted in the loss of an innocent life.
No one wants children to go to jail for petty crimes or immature mistakes. However, there does need to be real consequences for young adults who are committing numerous violent crimes and displaying an obvious disregard for the law. It is equally as important that juvenile criminals have access to the therapy and rehabilitative programs they need to turn their lives around and positively contribute to society. Restorative justice is important, but it only works when effective rehabilitative programs are adequately funded and it is coupled with consequences.
The current juvenile justice system is failing. It failed the young man who has now killed somebody, it certainly failed Henryk, and it is failing the people of Connecticut. This is what happens when elected officials are more worried about budget cuts rather than getting troubled youth back on track for success in life. Young criminals do not have access to the services they need to be truly rehabilitated, and the innocent Connecticut residents are at a much higher risk of being victims of a crime because of it.
I constantly hear concerns from residents over continued car thefts, break-ins and other crimes that are being committed by teenagers who are allowed to repeatedly break the law, many times violently, and get away with it. While my office and our police department are bound by the laws put in place at the state level, I will continue to use my position as a sounding board for change on this issue. In 2019 I sent a letter to state elected officials signed by dozens victims of crime from New Britain asking for things to change and they sat silent. I recently joined State Representative [Vincent] Candelora, other elected officials and concerned citizens at the State Capitol for a press conference where we publicly called on the legislators at the State Capitol to pass laws that will lead to the overhaul in the juvenile criminal justice system that so desperately needed.
Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain