Weekly Notes: Conn. Age Change Might be Delayed; Developments on Pennsylvania JJ Scandal; Report on Status Offenders; and More


***Connecticut has become a darling, of sorts, for the juvenile justice community.  It has signed on to MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change initiative as one of the non-core states. And it is fortunate to have one of the best JJ grant makers, the Tow Foundation in Wilton, Conn., focused almost completely on getting the state's juvenile justice system to a better place.

The biggest change has been passage of a state law that would set the criminal adult age at 18; right now, Connecticut considers anyone 16 or older to be adults. But the state's budget woes (it faces a projected $8 billion shortfall over the course of the next two budgets, according to Gov. Jodi Rell's office) have made some in the state worry about handling a massive jurisdictional shift without resources to put toward that effort. And that "some" includes Rell (R), who proposed in her budget that the state delay for two years moving 16- and 17-year-olds into juvenile court.

The problems center around pretrial incarceration. There is a fear that cities and towns are going to have to create and staff new facilities (or at least add to existing ones) to be able to separate an increasing juvenile population from adults. Post-adjudication is not a problem: There is more than enough space at the atrocity of a building that is the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.

But the prospect of a state law forcing costs on localities is making some who support the idea of an changing the juvenile age - such as Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy (D) and West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci, who represents the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association - freak out about how it can be done.

"A lot of towns and cities don't have the funds at this time to build," Malloy told the Stamford Advocate.

Advocates in the state don't think implementation needs to be delayed because the legislature has moved to take care of it. "All of their concerns were hashed out in committee," said Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, responding to the concerns of Malloy and others. "A clean-up bill is already in front of the judiciary committee."

The alliance has quickly moved to dispel what it believes are growing myths adding up to the notion of an unfunded  mandate. It circulated this memo, which explains how existing and clean-up legislation address most of the cost concerns.

***The Vera Institute of Justice, one of the key national grantees for the Models for Change initiative, released a study of states that are working to reframe how they handle youths who are status offenders. Making Court the Last Report looks at how two states (Connecticut and Florida) and one local jurisdiction (Orange County, N.Y.) have improved services for status offenders.

The common denominators: less probation services and family court, more instant assistance from a network of social service providers.

Two things of note here. First, will these states be able to keep funding these programs? All three states are taking very hard hits economically. Continued funding of the new status offender programs would send a very clear message: We don't view this as something nice to do when we can. It is now the protocol for handling status offenders.

Second, there is a very good chance the next reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act will force states to stop detaining status offenders , phased in over three years. It will be interesting to see if states start copying these efforts and get ahead of the deadline. Nice job by Vera to emphasize that, over the long haul, this is a cost-saving venture when the alternatives include court time, fines and detention or confinement.

***We mentioned two months ago in Notes the horrifying case that surfaced about the potential torture and killing of dozens of youths at the Florida Industrial School for Boys, a reform school in Marianna, Fla., near the state's border with Alabama. This was in the 1950s and 60s; it has since been replaced by the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, another juvenile residential program.

The state is digging up the area around a plot of 32 unmarked graves near the ranch, which former wards believe could turn up the bodies of youths who died of abuse. Now, about 100 men who spent time there or another reform school in Okeechobee have joined in a lawsuit against the state. The suit was filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court in late January. Among the defendants are the Department of Juvenile Justice and two former employees of the school.

***Minnesotans are all over juvenile justice lately. A large network of nonprofits will head to the state capitol for Second Chance Day next week to promote better reentry programs for adult and juvenile offenders. This week, a group of police and prosecutors from Minnesota counties met with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to push for support of evidence-based JJ programs, particularly Functional Family Therapy. The meeting was put together by D.C.-based Fight Crime: Invest in Kids COO Miriam Rollin; all five officials involved are members of Fight Crime. Klobuchar was a member when she was the county attorney for Hennepin County.

***Last week's notes made mention of the discouraging case in Luzerne County, where two judges are suspected of steering youths into juvenile detention for money.

Along the way, Judge Mark Ciavarella skipped past the part of proceedings where he was supposed to offer lawyers to juveniles who appeared before him. The state supreme court initially declined the Juvenile Law Center's requests to review hundreds of the cases that Ciavarella presided over from 2003 to 2008. But JLC asked again once the kickbacks came to light, and the court has granted the organization's request.

***It had been awhile since we read WireTap, the news and culture webzine for and by youth. Definitely our mistake, forgot how great the site is. The homepage right now includes a translated reprint of a piece about jurisdictions that charge fees to families of juveniles who are detained or incarcerated.

***Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative has released a guide for its sites around the country on how to handle the media. Using Media Advocacy to Promote Detention Reform offers some salient advice on how to get stories into print, what to avoid when talking to reporters, etc. Also included is a case study on dealing with public criticism, which is exactly what Multnomah County, Ore., (Portland) had to do when a group called Crime Victims United released a scathing but questionable report on JDAI's record in the county.