State's juvenile justice system to undergo data-driven review

Connecticut has reformed its juvenile justice system, but there is still much to be done, according to state leaders who announced a new initiative Tuesday.

State leaders said a bipartisan group representing all three branches of government has formed a new task force, called Connecticut Improving Outcomes for Youth, which will oversee a data-driven review of the juvenile system. The nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center will conduct the review with support from the University of New Haven's Tow Youth Justice Institute.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw, representing Gov. Ned Lamont; state Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven; and Judge Bernadette Conway, the state's chief adminstrative judge for juvenile matters, announced the collaboration, and the task force was scheduled to have its first meeting Tuesday.

Connecticut raised the age of juvenile protection to include 16- and 17-year-olds in 2011, and in 2018 closed the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown in a shift toward lesser restrictive facilities for delinquent juveniles. The General Assembly has enacted other reforms, including in this past session one that allows juveniles in auto theft cases to be placed in diversionary programs rather than detention. Proponents say the new law will lead to a better outcome for the child and result in a cost savings to the state of approximately $800 a night.

According to the state, 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.

"Connecticut saw a 17 percent decline in referrals to juvenile court between 2015 and 2018, but the state still faces ethnic and racial disparities: youth of color make up almost 65 percent of all referrals to juvenile court," said a news release sent by Donna Pfrommer, director of development and communications from the Tow Youth Justice Institute. "Additionally, it is not yet clear how recent reforms — including eliminating truancy and defiance of school rules as causes for justice system involvement and closing the state's only secure facility for boys — have translated into public safety trends and youth outcomes. 

The review will be funded, in part, by a $6 million grant that the Council of State Governments Justice Center received in 2016. Funds were released for the Connecticut review this past April, according to Pfrommer.

Sonoma County, California's juvenile justice system is undergoing a similar review.

k.florin@theday.com

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