Connecticut, Sonoma County Launch Efforts to Improve Juvenile Justice Systems

June 11, 2019

Connecticut and Sonoma County, California became the latest jurisdictions to join a national initiative and launch a data-driven effort to improve public safety and help create better futures for the young people involved with their juvenile justice systems.

The endeavors are part of the Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) initiative, an effort by the National Reentry Resource Center to answer the call of state and local jurisdictions struggling to ensure that resources are being efficiently used to help young people who interact with the juvenile justice system succeed. In the face of recidivism rates as high as 50 percent for youth on community supervision in many states, IOYouth helps jurisdictions align their policies and practices with what research shows works to improve youth and public safety outcomes.

Over the next year, The Council of State Governments Justice Center will examine Connecticut and Sonoma County’s juvenile justice systems, from referral to reentry. The findings will be reported to the respective IOYouth Task Force in each jurisdiction. Each task force is composed of a bipartisan, interbranch group of officials including juvenile justice leaders, officials from education and children’s services divisions, members of the judiciary, advocates, law enforcement officials, and more; it is responsible for translating recommendations resulting from the assessments into policy, practice, and resource allocation changes.

In Connecticut, remarkable progress has been made to reduce the number of youth that enter its juvenile justice system: According to data provided by Connecticut, between 2009 and 2017, juvenile arrests in the state fell from 18,372 per year to 8,192, and the number of incarcerated youth declined from 499 to 157. The number of referrals to juvenile court declined 17 percent between 2015 and 2018. While this total decline is promising, racial and ethnic disparities persist: children of color still make up almost 65 percent of all referrals to juvenile court. Additionally, community-based services for youth don’t always match what research shows is most effective at helping them stay crime-free.

The comprehensive review in Connecticut, which kicked off today, will focus on how recent juvenile justice reforms—including the elimination of truancy and defiance of school rules as a delinquent offenses and the closure of the state’s only secure facility for boys—are impacting outcomes for kids. After analyzing current system trends and assessing the implementation and effect of recent reforms, the Connecticut IOYouth team will offer recommendations on how to better facilitate positive youth growth, improve public safety, and create a more equitable system. The task force will then turn these recommendations into tangible action.

Similar to the reductions Connecticut has seen, Sonoma County has already witnessed notable declines in the number of young people on supervision—a 40 percent decrease from 2014 to 2018. Yet, some youth who don’t pose a risk to public safety and would be better served in the community are detained because of a lack of alternatives. The Sonoma County IOYouth effort, which launched in May, is focusing on the county’s probation department and its partners to gain insight into how it can address this.

Another focus of Sonoma County’s assessment is issues regarding programming. Community-based providers often duplicate some programming yet lack others for youth who require more intensive services, such as those with behavioral health needs. The assessment will offer solutions to streamline service provision and ensure that youth are directed to the services best equipped to address their needs.

In the past, states with both Republican and Democratic leadership have successfully implemented the policy, practice, and resource allocation recommendations that resulted from the IOYouth initiative. This year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act after it passed with bipartisan support; in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 after it was unanimously passed by the state’s legislature.

Jurisdictions are selected to receive assistance through the IOYouth initiative via a competitive process facilitated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the National Reentry Resource Center.

For more information, contact Nina Salomon at

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