The Connecticut legislature recently passed sweeping legislation to advance juvenile justice reform in the state, including two key provisions that expand juvenile pre-arrest diversion programs and keep youth charged as adults in the juvenile system before trial.
These measures stemmed from recommendations that came out of Connecticut’s Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) initiative, which the state started in 2019 with assistance from experts at the CSG Justice Center. IOYouth is a data-driven approach that states can use to reform their juvenile justice policies to improve youth outcomes and public safety.
Here’s what you need to know about this critical legislation:
- Why is This Legislation Needed?
Although Connecticut has made notable progress to reduce the number of youth in its juvenile justice system, there are still many children on some form of supervision, including for low-level offenses. Youth of color are disproportionately represented in this population, making up almost 65 percent of all referrals to juvenile court. Children as young as seven can be arrested in Connecticut, subjecting them to trauma that often leads to worse outcomes.
In addition, if a youth is charged as an adult in Connecticut, before their trial they are held in a facility overseen by the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC). Unlike staff in juvenile facilities, DOC staff do not have the specialized training to provide the appropriate services or support that youth in the justice system need. Research has shown that sending youth to adult prisons and jails can have extreme collateral consequences, including experiencing increased trauma and a higher risk of sexual assault. Tragically, research has even found that they are five times more likely to commit suicide.
- What Does this Legislation Mean for Youth in Connecticut?
HB 6667 encompasses significant reforms to Connecticut’s juvenile justice system, including raising the minimum age of arrest from 7 to 10 and expanding educational resources within juvenile facilities.
The legislation also includes two specific measures that arose from the CSG Justice Center’s recommendations during the IOYouth process:
- Expand access to community-based supports and services before arrest for low-risk youth to reduce their involvement in the justice system. This policy will be enacted in two phases; the first includes developing a plan by January 2022 to automatically divert youth who commit low-level infractions and violations to existing community-based services before arrest. The second phase will take place the following year and will involve creating a process to automatically divert youth who commit certain low-level misdemeanors to the community diversion system instead of arresting them.
Diversion programs are key for reducing justice involvement for low-risk youth. They can provide supports and services that still hold youth accountable for their actions while also preventing unnecessary and harmful future involvement in the justice system, including a criminal record that follows them throughout their life and jeopardizes future education, employment, and housing.
- Require youth who are charged as adults and are in need of a secure setting pretrial to be placed in a juvenile detention facility instead of a facility run by the DOC. Connecticut has until January 2022 to create a plan for housing all youth under 18, including budget estimates and proposals for any future legislation that may be necessary. The plan will go into effect in 2023.
Research has shown that youth who enter the juvenile system have a better chance at rehabilitation and lower recidivism rates than youth in the adult system. This is due to the juvenile system’s focus on rehabilitation and community-based services like counseling, education, and substance use and mental health treatments.
- How Were the Recommendations Developed?
In June 2019, Connecticut launched its IOYouth initiative to analyze juvenile justice system data and identify opportunities to further reduce recidivism and strengthen public safety. Over the next year, CSG Justice Center staff worked with the state’s IOYouth Task Force to review assessment findings and reach a consensus on a set of policy recommendations, some of which were incorporated into the subsequent legislation that was introduced earlier this year. The bill will now go to Governor Ned Lamont for his signature.
- What’s Next for IOYouth in CT?
CSG Justice Center staff will continue supporting the Connecticut Court Support Services Division (CSSD) with the implementation of IOYouth recommendations that did not require legislation. These recommendations included:
- Establishing policies and quality control protocols to reduce the number of youth who are automatically detained and to ensure that detention decisions are data-driven
- Strengthening probation case management and youth and family engagement policies and practices
- Strengthening processes to ensure that limited resources are used effectively for services to improve youth outcomes, such as service diversification, matching, procurement, and contracting.