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Secrecy bid won’t stop with murder photos

Connecticut is lucky that sympathy for the survivors of the victims of the school massacre in Newtown didn’t destroy everything about freedom of information and accountability in government. The massacre secrecy legislation, concocted secretly itself, without a public hearing, blocks disclosure only of photographs and videos of murder victims — all murder victims, not just those in the Newtown massacre — and recordings of police radio transmissions describing murder victims’ wounds.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, Victim Advocate Garvin G. Ambrose, and others took the Newtown massacre as an opportunity to advance the traditional agendas of their offices to seal off nearly all criminal-justice records and proceedings, and some legislators and other officials wanted to suppress even death certificates. If these officials had prevailed, never again would there be any public understanding of crime and evaluation of the criminal-justice system.

Crime scene and autopsy photos and videos probably are not necessary to understanding what happened in Newtown, nor to validation of the official account of most murders. But crime scene and autopsy photos and videos certainly are necessary to understanding some murders and to guarding against official misconduct and lies.

Famous examples from history of the necessity to disclose the image evidence of crime include the assassination of President Kennedy and the mass murder of Polish military officers by the Soviet Union during World War II. But in recent years so many murder convictions in the United States have been disproved by DNA analysis and the recanting of testimony that it is outrageous that any criminal evidence should ever be placed outside public review.

Apparently as a sort of apology for their secret crafting of the criminal evidence legislation, General Assembly leaders and Governor Malloy had the bill create a commission to assess the balance between the desires for privacy in criminal justice and the public’s right to know about it. That is, attempts to destroy accountability in criminal justice will not be stopping with crime scene photos.

Almost 2,000 children age 6 and under were suspended from school in Connecticut in the 2011-12 school year, most in cities or poorer suburbs, and the commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, former state Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz, is shocked about it.

“When children are being suspended,” the commissioner says, “something else is not being attended to,” since the children are probably “victims of trauma.”

But Governor Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary Michael Lawlor, blames the suspensions of the youngest kids on poor school management. “It has to do with the culture in a school,” Lawlor says. “It’s not about the kids at that school. It’s about the policies in that school” — discipline policies.

Few schools have the doctors and therapists needed to cure children who are already incorrigible and disruptive at just 6 years old. State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, whose city’s schools suspended 73 kids 6 or younger last year, notes, “Schools are stressed.”

Now if only someone in state government would inquire into why schools are stressed — that is, why so many young kids are so messed up before they even get to school.

Where is the trauma cited by the DCF commissioner coming from? Why has DCF’s child caseload been exploding for decades? Does government welfare policy have something to do with this trend? Could government policy reverse it? Can government afford not to reverse it?

Even the most incorrigible 6-year-olds are innocent and somebody has to minister to them. But Connecticut also has to find a way of turning off the child abuse machine. Remediating its horrible and expensive consequences isn’t enough, for remediation can never catch up while the child abuse machine keeps chugging along.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.