Connecticut: A State in Transition


JJ Today spent the Labor Day weekend in New England, and had a chance to meet some area juvenile justice people there: Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Martha Stone and Josh Michtom from the Center for Children's Advocacy and Jennie Vieira, a youth worker at Heritage House in Portland, Maine, which helps teen girls who enter the JJ system avoid incarceration.

Connecticut is trying to reform its juvenile justice system, an interesting process. Its juveniles are handled pre-detention by one agency (Court Support Services Division, or CSSD), and post-adjudication by another (Department for Children and Families, or DCF). There are states in which counties handle detention but the state deals with commitment (Louisiana comes to mind), but we were not familiar with a bifurcated all-state system. Anderson says there has been considerable dialogue recently as to what information CSSD should (and should not) share with DCF.

Connecticut began to emerge from the adjudication Dark Ages in 2007 when it passed a law placing 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile population, leaving only two states that consider that group of youths to be adults under all circumstances (North Carolina and New York).

Connecticut expects about 300 new juvenile commitments as a result of the change, which takes effect next year. About 80 of the new commitments will likely require a secure setting (prison), and the rest of the juveniles will be monitored from home or live in residential facilities.

But it's unclear what resources (staff and programs) will be provided to the two juvenile justice agencies to accommodate the increased caseload. It isn't as easy as simply moving money from the adult corrections budget; while the shift of teens will result in a major increase for the JJ system, the adult system won't see much of a change in caseloads and resources. The state probably won't be cutting back on adult parole or probation officers to move that money over to the JJ system.

One thing is certain, though: the much-maligned Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) will stay open to accommodate the influx, even though Gov. Jodi Rell (R) vowed to close it in 2006.

"Our position is that they should still close it," said Anderson, who supports Rell's vision of a Missouri-style collection of small juvenile facilities around the state. But she and other Alliance members have resigned themselves to the fact that CJTS will be around for the foreseeable future. They are  working with CJTS supervisor Bill Rosenbeck to make the place less brutal. That includes clustering youth by age, keeping juveniles with the same CJTS staff, and allowing inmates to put up some decorations in their tiny cells.

A less-heralded 2007 law put Connecticut ahead of the curve on status offenders. It prohibited judges from committing status offenders to secure facilities, a requirement that may be foisted on all of the states in when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is reauthorized (and states can definitely expect some hand-wringing on the part of judges and social workers if that happens, Anderson said.)

The Connecticut law called for creation of family support centers that would be accessible in every community, one-stop agencies that would replace commitment as an option for judges. But only four have been created thus far and they serve about 40 towns, Anderson says, leaving more than 100 towns without access to a center.