Last month, legislation expanding pre-arrest diversion opportunities for youth and shifting responsibility for all youth under 18 who are being held before trial to the Connecticut judicial branch was introduced in the state legislature. The provisions are part of a larger bill proposing sweeping reforms to Connecticut’s juvenile justice system.
Connecticut has made much progress in recent years to reduce the number of youth who enter its juvenile justice system. However, many youth who commit low-level offenses—especially youth of color—receive some form of system supervision. Additionally, youth charged as adults who are held pretrial are currently housed in facilities run by the Department of Corrections, which lack the critical training and services to meet the needs of youth.
To address these and other juvenile justice system issues, Connecticut state leaders launched the Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) initiative in June 2019 to assess the impact of recent changes to the state’s juvenile justice system and identify additional opportunities for improvement. Under the direction of an IOYouth Task Force, The Council of State Governments Justice Center spent the following year assessing the state’s juvenile justice system and developing data-driven policy recommendations, which the task force approved. Two of these recommendations were subsequently incorporated into the newly proposed legislation:
Divert low-risk youth away from formal system involvement and provide them with effective services to address their needs, if necessary.
- Develop a plan by January 2022 to automatically divert youth who commit certain low-level violations and infractions to the existing community-based diversion system in lieu of an arrest.
- For certain low-level misdemeanor offenses, develop a plan by January 2023 to establish a pre-arrest diversion model that would require law enforcement to refer youth who commit these offenses to the diversion system in lieu of an arrest.
Ensure that all youth under 18 who are being held pretrial or pre-disposition and require secure settings are housed in juvenile detention facilities rather than in the custody of the Department of Corrections.
- By January 1, 2022, the Connecticut judicial branch, which oversees most of the juvenile justice system in the state, must develop and submit a plan for how to house all youth under age 18 who require secure placements.
- The plan will take effect in 2023 and must include cost estimates and recommendations for any subsequent legislation that may be needed to fully and effectively implement the plan.
These provisions, as part of the larger package of juvenile justice legislation, are being considered by the Connecticut legislature during the 2021 session.
The IOYouth initiative in Connecticut was supported by the Tow Youth Justice Institute.