Today, Connecticut is widely considered a model for how a state can improve its juvenile justice system, while improving public safety and overall youth outcomes. Increasingly, youth charged with minor offenses are diverted from court involvement, and may instead receive behavioral health supports and other programming proven effective. For youth involved in the court system, the state has passed laws ensuring evidence-based practices, greater access to education and behavioral health care, and improvements in legal processing. The state also now regulates many issues stemming from school discipline policies that may otherwise push youth into unnecessary court involvement. As an early adopter of many reform policies based on a better understanding of crime deterrence and youth developmental psychology, Connecticut has earned recognition for its leadership, continued reforms and innovations that will allow the state to uphold this reputation.
Starting in 2015, the JJPOC established three strategic goals to guide juvenile justice reform efforts by mid-2018. Significant progress has been made towards each of these goals.
Two measures were established to increase Diversion: Referrals of delinquents to Juvenile Court and Referrals to Juvenile Review Boards. The number of delinquency referrals (referring youth to juvenile court) as reported in November 2018 has decreased by 25.6%.
The incarceration rate in Connecticut is among the lowest in the country. In November 2018, a cut of over 50% in the state’s juvenile detention centers had already been achieved through the reduction in males admitted to the Manson Youth Institute, The York Correctional Institute and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School closing in May 2018.
The rate of recidivism reduced by 8% in November, 2018. The Recidivism Workgroup has developed a plan to create multiple pathways to educational opportunity, cultivating and supporting expert teachers, developing specialized curricula, supporting reentry from detention and coming home to opportunity.
A Community-Based Diversion System was developed in 2017. This is intended to divert status-offending youth from the juvenile justice system, as well as those who commit low-level offenses, to effective, developmentally appropriate, community-based responses. By creating a process for early identification, assessment and intervention, the individual social/emotional, behavioral, criminal, mental health and academic needs of at-risk youth can be addressed within the context of their family and community.
Dovetailing that is a School-Based Diversion Plan that was completed in early 2018. It included a focus on revision of current school discipline policies. One component of this work is the use of Restorative Justice practices. These practices are a set of relational, communication approaches used to facilitate meaningful conversations to prevent harm, as well as to restore relationships wherein harm has occurred and conflict exists between people. They have evolved as a tool to improve school climate and educational outcomes, and provide structure for organizing effective group communication, building relationships, sound decision-making and resolving conflicts.
The progress in reducing the incarceration rate for juveniles has important implications nationally. The reduction in males admitted to the Manson Youth Institute has remained steady at 28% each year. Admissions to The York Correctional Institute have remained below 10% for the past four years. CJTS closed in May 2018, earlier than anticipated, as the last youth was placed in alternative confinement. Through Raise the Age legislation and various diversionary strategies, the incarceration rate in Connecticut is among the lowest of any other state in the country.
This is the result of many committed and caring individuals, organizations and state agencies dedicated to improving the system and keeping as many youth as possible away from interaction with the system. Far surpassing the goal of a 30% reduction, an almost 50% reduction is unprecedented.
The juvenile justice system had not seen strong results as of the November 2018 report. Recidivism increased for juveniles released from CJTS, slightly decreased when measured to 2014 for those on probation, and is approaching 10% for those transferred juveniles released from the Manson Youth Institution. However, when looking at results from 2007 when the Court Support Services Division began measuring recidivism, there has been an 8% reduction. The Recidivism Workgroup determined that Connecticut needs a meaningful, system-wide quality control mechanism to ensure that youth in the deep end of the justice system have access to educational and economic opportunity, and they are working to address issues that point to the need for a single, consolidated system to educate youth in custody.