Our VoiceNews & Politics

Another Story from New Haven: Project Restart

Guest Blogger • May 13, 2009

By Andrew Grant-Thomas

Some readers will know about Ricci v. DeStefano, a case filed by white firefighters in New Haven, CT, my home town, after the City invalidated the results of a test that would have promoted 15 whites, one Latino and no African Americans. The US Supreme Court recently heard the case.

Last week I read a less-ballyhooed story out of New Haven about a program called Project Restart. The idea is that, rather than perpetuate the sweep-lockup-release cycle that ensnares so many petty drug offenders, the police instead would spend more time targeting high-level dealers while offering lower-level ones sentencing alternatives like school or job training.

The story focuses on Raheem Vaughn, a 19 year-old African American whose criminal record consists of a charge for possession of a mini-ziplock bag of marijuana and a bust for selling $50 worth of the stuff. That record, according to Assistant Police Chief Pete Reichard, leaves him too “hardened” to qualify for the sentencing alternatives.


A 19 year-old who already went through drug counseling and is trying to finish high school… beyond redemption? Don’t be stupid. But check him out after the minimum four years in prison the state prosecutor, Brian Leslie, wants to drop on him. After that, Vaughn will be in his mid-twenties, with no high school diploma, four years of prison “education” to his credit, and a felony conviction. What’s that saying about doing the same old stupid things and expecting a different result?

In the meantime, if Mr. Leslie or Mr. Reichard wants to know exactly where and when to catch Yalies doing a lot more than $50 in coke, marijuana, and whatever else on a weekly basis, I could find out in the space of two phone calls. I bet they already know. Think we’ll see New Haven’s finest busting down Yale dorm doors anytime soon?

It costs an average of $44k/year to incarcerate an inmate in Connecticut — $176k over the four years the prosecutor wants to lock Raheem Vaughn up. How about taking HALF of that money — $88,000 — and investing it in a productive future for Raheem Vaughn? For that amount of cash you could give him the tutoring he may need to finish high school and prep for college and STILL have some money left over for books, fees and tuition at a state school.

How about a Project Restart worthy of the name?

Andrew Grant-Thomas is the Deputy Director at Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. His substantive projects include work on the nature of structural racism; the potential for forging constructive alliances between immigrants and African Americans; and responses to further school re‐segregation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Seattle/Louisville desegregation cases.
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