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Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Connecticut: Balancing Service and Public Safety Objectives in Juvenile Justice System Reform


With the enactment in June 1995 of Public Act (P.A.) 95­225,305 An Act Concerning Juvenile Justice, Connecticut set out to reform its juvenile justice system. The principal thrust of the State's reform initiative was to make major corrections in a system that was viewed as both too lenient with serious and violent juvenile offenders who posed public safety risks and unresponsive to the treatment needs of juvenile offenders.

The centerpiece of Connecticut's reform initiative was a set of provisions that would require the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds who commit serious felonies to adult court, permit access to confidential juvenile records, transfer prosecutorial jurisdiction for juvenile crime from the State's judicial branch to the Division of Criminal Justice, and expand services for and supervision of juvenile offenders.306

P.A. 95­225 also called for the development of a plan to bring about an across-the-board reorganization of the State's juvenile justice system. The act charged a task force composed of executive, judicial, and legislative branch officials with developing the plan for consideration by the Governor and the State legislature.

By fall 1996, the State had completed its reorganization plan and moved forward to implement various features of its reform initiative. Earlier that year, however, the reorganization effort had suffered a setback when, despite overwhelming support for the initiative, the State legislature did not pass enabling legislation needed to support implementation of two key components of the plan: the transfer of juveniles awaiting trial as adults to the Department of Corrections and expedited renovation and construction of juvenile facilities.307

Enabling legislation was to be reintroduced in January 1997. Officials closely involved with the reform initiative are optimistic that the needed legislation will be enacted and that the goals of P.A. 95­225 will be achieved.

Impetus for Reform

Connecticut's reform of its juvenile justice system evolved in many ways from major reforms accomplished in the State's adult system beginning in the early 1990's.308 By 1994, the State had delivered on its promise that adults convicted of violent offenses would serve longer terms. The State had acted to ensure that adults convicted of violent offenses would serve the sentences that they received, and it had built the new prisons needed to hold them.

However, by the mid-1990's, it was clear to the public and its elected and appointed officials that during the period of improving the adult system the juvenile justice system had been largely neglected. "When the improvements in the adult system were complete, all of a sudden all of the problems in the juvenile justice system were glaringly obvious," according to one State executive branch official.309

A principal catalyst for the public's focus on the juvenile justice system in the State was an evolving gang problem that encompassed not only Connecticut's urban centers but some of its more suburban communities.310 Law enforcement officials were finding large numbers of juveniles in broad sweeps of gangs. These juveniles, though young in age, were often experienced gang members who were committing serious and violent crimes and receiving minimal sanctions for their activities. Their youth was being exploited by older gang leaders who knew that these young gang members would receive lesser penalties for their actions in the juvenile justice system than their older, adult counterparts would in the criminal justice system. Moreover, there was only a slim chance that a juvenile gang member adjudicated for a serious or violent crime would serve any significant time in a correctional facility. The Long Lane School, the most secure and prisonlike facility for juveniles in the State, was seriously overcrowded, and it was widely known that stays at the school were limited to only a few months.311

The contrast in the justice system's treatment of adult and juvenile offenders who committed similar crimes was obvious to all observers. To one State official, it seemed as if the State was hammering the adult members of the gang and being manipulated with respect to the juvenile members of the gang.312 The public wondered why 16- and 17-year-olds (adults under Connecticut law) who committed serious crimes had to serve serious time in prison, but 15-year-olds who committed similar crimes did not.

Elements of Reform

P.A. 95­225 is an expansive law that establishes the framework, and sometimes prescribes the specifics, for dramatic change in the operations of the State of Connecticut's juvenile justice system. The law sets out numerous organizational and operational changes in agencies of the juvenile justice and related systems, including the courts, probation, children and family services, and corrections.313 It calls for the development of risk assessment, case classification, and purchase-of-services systems; enumerates and describes programs to be included in an expanded network of services for juvenile offenders; and makes changes in judicial proceedings concerning both delinquent children and juveniles accused of serious crimes.

The three principal goals of P.A. 95­225 are to ensure that:

bullet Juveniles are held accountable for their unlawful behavior.
bullet Programs and services are designed to meet the needs of juveniles.
bullet Communities are adequately protected.314

The statute states:

It is the intent of the general assembly that the juvenile justice system provide individualized supervision, care, accountability and treatment in a manner consistent with public safety to those juveniles who violate the law . . . . The juvenile justice system shall also promote prevention efforts through the support of programs and services designed to meet the needs of juveniles charged with the commission of a delinquent act.315

At the heart of P.A. 95­225 are provisions that reflect the divergent viewpoints of the two principal constituencies that helped to shape the reform initiative: policymakers who favored concentrating system improvements on the serious and violent juvenile offender and those who focused their efforts on making substantial investments in expanding and improving services for all juvenile offenders. The following four key elements of the statute further reflect these two constituent interests:

bullet Providing access to previously confidential juvenile records.
bullet Developing a workable mechanism to transfer 14- and 15-year-old juveniles who commit serious felony crimes to criminal court.
bullet Transferring prosecutorial jurisdiction for juvenile crime from the State's judicial branch to the Division of Criminal Justice of the Office of the Chief State's Attorney.
bullet Providing appropriate supervision, programming, and services for all levels of juvenile offenders.316

The Reform Strategy

The new law envisioned sweeping changes in the State's traditional approach to managing juvenile offenders. Accordingly, implementation of the new law would require a massive reshuffling of the juvenile justice system and additional laws and resources to support the mandated changes. The State legislature called for the development of a juvenile justice reorganization plan to be submitted to the Governor and the State legislature by February 1, 1996.317 To develop that plan, the legislature created a task force composed of the chief court administrator, the commissioner of children and families, and the under secretary of the Planning Division of the Office of Policy and Management.318

The legislature charged the task force, known as the Policy Group, with producing recommendations in 16 areas that ranged from studying the feasibility of transferring the State's juvenile detention centers from the judicial branch to the Department of Children and Families, to entering into contracts with service providers, to producing a comprehensive plan for juveniles who are substance abusers.319 The legislature instructed the Policy Group to consult with the attorney general, the State treasurer, the chief State's attorney, the Division of Public Defender Services, and the cochairs and ranking members of the State legislature's judiciary and appropriations committees in formulating the reorganization plan. Overall, the reorganization plan would address the allocation of staff and responsibilities between the Department of Children and Families and the judicial branch and would "include recommendations for revisions and reallocations in the . . . [state] budget to implement . . . [the] reorganization plan."320

Three principles guided the work of the Policy Group:

bullet A range of structured alternatives for juveniles should be created that would be available to judges handling juvenile matters.
bullet A balance should be achieved between institutional and community-based services to ensure that the full range of needs of delinquent juveniles is met.
bullet A flexible, multiyear approach should be pursued in implementing the reorganization plan.321

To ensure that its mandate was met fully, the Policy Group developed a planning process under which five committees -- State facilities, community-based programs and services, mental health services, substance abuse services, and State-operated services -- were convened and the 16 legislative requirements divided among the committees. The Policy Group and its committees were aided in their work by a planning and management group, which provided assistance in project management, and by designated committee facilitators, who provided assistance in meeting timetables and in preparing the final report.322 The State's gubernatorially appointed juvenile justice advisory committee, created to oversee administration of the State's participation in the Federal Juvenile Justice Formula Grants Program, also provided advice and support for the reorganization effort.

On February 1, the Policy Group formally transmitted its reorganization plan to Governor John Rowland and the Connecticut General Assembly. On February 7, the Governor forwarded his budgetary and legislative proposals to implement the reorganization plan to the General Assembly.

The reorganization plan presented some two dozen detailed recommendations for achieving the legislative goals set forth in P.A. 95­225. Chief among them were recommendations to provide access to previously confidential juvenile records; implement a mechanism to transfer 14- and 15-year-old juveniles who commit serious felony crimes to adult court; transfer prosecutorial jurisdiction for juvenile crime from the State's judicial branch to the Division of Criminal Justice of the Office of the Chief State's Attorney; and enhance supervision, programming, and services for all levels of juvenile offenders.

The reorganization plan also identified four areas in which new legislation would be needed to support implementation of its principal recommendations:

Expedited Construction. To realize the goal of providing a continuum of services for juvenile offenders, it would be necessary to renovate the Long Lane School, the State's principal juvenile corrections facility, and build another juvenile detention facility and a courthouse at Bridgeport, CT. Standard State construction procedures would not permit the necessary work to be completed in the timeframe envisioned by the reorganization plan. The Policy Group called for enactment of legislation that would authorize expedited construction procedures.

Transfer of Juveniles. P.A. 95­225 mandated that 14- and 15-year-olds who are charged with committing serious felony crimes be transferred to criminal court. The legislature charged the Policy Group with developing appropriate transfer procedures. The Policy Group recommended that juveniles transferred to criminal court be committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections for pretrial detention and for serving their sentences. Legislation would be required to effect the custody transfer.

New Funding. The Policy Group recommended that the State legislature repeal § 8(C) of P.A. 95­225, which required that there be "no increase in budget allocations for the department of children and families, the judicial branch, the department of corrections or the office of policy and management for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1997, but the State legislature may deploy staff and redirect funding among these agencies." The reorganization plan called for new funds in the amount of $16 million to implement the plan fully over 3 years, from the State's fiscal year 1996­97 to 1998­99. An additional $61.9 million in existing funds would be allotted over the 3-year program to support plan implementation. Legislation was needed to repeal the section of P.A. 95­225 that prohibited the allocation of new resources for the implementation plan.

Transfer of Juvenile Justice Centers. The reorganization plan called for the transfer of the management and operation of the Juvenile Justice Centers from the Office of Policy and Management to the judicial branch. The centers provide short-term, nonresidential services statewide for juvenile probation clients. However, under § 44 of P.A. 95­225, this transfer could not be made until the centers no longer received any Federal funding. Because the centers regularly received funding from Federal programs, including funds from the Federal Juvenile Justice Formula Grants Program -- transfer of the centers could be postponed indefinitely. Legislative measures were recommended to remove this restriction.323

Implementing Reform

P.A. 95­225 represents a compromise between reformers whose principal focus was on serious juvenile offenders and reformers who, while not in disagreement with harsher treatment of serious and violent juvenile offenders, primarily were advocates for expanding programs and services to address the needs of juvenile offenders across the board.

The first reform-oriented bills introduced in the Connecticut legislature sought to require the transfer of 14- and 15-year-old juvenile offenders who commit serious felonies to criminal court. The reform initiative, which evolved from Governor Rowland's campaign promise to pursue a transfer provision, became the centerpiece of his first spending proposal for juvenile justice. The Governor's juvenile justice proposal also sought downsizing of the Long Lane School and the expansion of services for juvenile offenders. An alternative legislative proposal deemphasized spending to support a stepped-up response to serious and violent juvenile crime and emphasized instead a substantial increase in juvenile justice programs and services.

Early in the 1995 legislative session, the legislature's Judiciary Committee began hearings on pending juvenile justice proposals, and it seemed that a major clash over system reform was likely. However, as the first hearings were about to be convened, opposing parties agreed to pursue a compromise that would reflect the strengths of both proposals. Driven by a general agreement that something needed to be done about the direction of the State's juvenile justice system, the two camps forged a compromise. P.A. 95­225 was enacted and signed into law on June 28, 1995. "When the reform bill finally passed, it contained something for everyone," a State official observed.324

By early 1996, Connecticut had moved forward to implement provisions of P.A. 95­225. Confidential juvenile records had been opened to prosecutors, police, and other justice system officials; the new transfer mechanism for juveniles who had committed serious crimes was in place; and prosecutorial jurisdiction for juvenile crime was scheduled for transfer from the judicial branch to the Division of Criminal Justice, an executive branch agency that handles all prosecutions of adult offenders.325

In February, legislation was introduced in the Senate to make the necessary statutory changes called for in the reorganization plan.326 Also in February, a supplemental funding measure was introduced in the House that included $6.7 million in new funding that the reorganization plan recommended for implementation of the plan in the State's fiscal year 1996­97 biennium.327 The State legislature authorized funding to support implementation of other key components of the reform plan but with $1.4 million less in new funding than had been requested by the Governor. In addition, the legislature approved an amendment to P.A. 95­225 that would facilitate the transfer of the management and operation of the juvenile justice centers from the Office of Policy Management to the judicial branch.

However, in 1996, despite continued bipartisan support for P.A. 95­225, legislation to implement two key provisions of the reform package died in the House. S. 81 would have allowed juveniles awaiting trial as criminals to be detained pretrial and to serve their sentences in adult correctional facilities and also would have provided for expedited renovation and construction of juvenile detention facilities and the courthouse at Bridgeport.

The implementation bill failed when it became embroiled in controversy surrounding unrelated issues, including two contentious intraparty leadership debates.328 In addition, in the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill passed handily, but not before being amended to include a prison privatization measure that raised budget issues in the executive branch and was opposed vehemently by labor interests. Opponents of new spending on juvenile institutions were vocal about their dislike of the expedited construction provision.

Ultimately, the implementation bill was kept off the House calendar and thereby prevented from coming to the floor for a vote. But S. 81 was not defeated on its merits. One State official observed, "If the [transfer/expedited construction bill] had been subject to a vote strictly on its merits, it would have passed overwhelmingly."329

S. 81's defeat in the legislature presented State officials with an immediate need to find an administrative solution to the confinement issues raised by implementation of P.A. 95­225's provision that authorized the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds to criminal court. Without the legal authority that S. 81 would have provided to confine certain juveniles in adult facilities, State officials needed to find placements for juveniles who were awaiting transfer to or who were adjudicated and sentenced in criminal court. With the aid of $500,000 in Federal funds from the Justice Department's Violent Offender/Truth in Sentencing grant program, a building on the grounds of an existing adult corrections facility was converted to a temporary detention facility to hold an estimated 30 to 40 juveniles awaiting transfer to criminal court. It is an expensive solution, costing the judicial branch an estimated $1 million a year to operate the facility -- significantly more than it would cost the Department of Corrections to house these youth. State officials hope that it will be a temporary solution and that a bill that would fully support the transfer and be effective upon passage will be enacted in the 1997 legislative session.

A Window of Opportunity

"For every public policy issue, there exists a window of opportunity when you can most effectively address an issue. Conversely, poor timing will often doom an otherwise credible initiative," a Connecticut official observed.330 A variety of circumstances and conditions collectively created a window of opportunity that was a major factor in Connecticut's juvenile justice system reform initiative.

Because of demographic factors, changing Connecticut's juvenile justice system arguably is easier than changing systems in many other States. Connecticut is a relatively small State with a small juvenile offender population and an even smaller population of serious and violent juvenile offenders. Such numbers can be dealt with, according to one Connecticut official.331 Connecticut's small size likewise makes it easier to reach and convene all the people who may be needed to address a problem.

A second factor that facilitated the juvenile justice reform initiative is the State's highly centralized government. All functions of Connecticut's criminal and juvenile justice systems, except policing, are carried out at the State level. Local prosecutors are appointed by a gubernatorially appointed commission. Their activities are overseen by the Office of the Chief State's Attorney, a State executive branch agency that operates under the supervision of that commission. A decision that might involve scores of high-level officials in most States requires only a handful of very powerful executive, legislative, and judicial branch officials.332

Perhaps the single most significant factor in Connecticut's overhaul of its juvenile justice system was the widely supported view that the system needed reform. The public had reached the limits of its patience with the State's juvenile justice system, in particular with its handling of serious juvenile offenders. The public wanted serious and violent juvenile offenders off the street, and the bill proposed to do that. The transfer provision became the centerpiece of Connecticut's reform initiative. A State official asserted that proponents of the reform package could not have sold it without the transfer provision.333

Supporters of juvenile justice reform in Connecticut were aided considerably by the absence of any major opposition. Overall, there were numerous reform advocates and few detractors. The Governor, then in his first term and a strong advocate of tax cuts and reduced government spending, was willing to put forward a significant reform proposal and to find the money to pay for it.334 The chief court administrator was a major proponent and facilitator of the reform initiative, and the State legislature, while not in complete agreement with all aspects of the Governor's proposal, was willing to support reform.

"There were folks who might have wanted a more minimal program than what we had, who might have been satisfied with transfer alone," a State official said.335 "And there were folks who thought that spending on Long Lane would be a waste and that we should spend money on more programs and smaller facilities. There was no one standing up and shouting it [the reform plan] down."

Even the news media, which had followed closely the State's reform of its adult corrections system, paid modest attention to P.A. 95­225's progress through the State legislature.336 The publicity that juvenile justice reform did receive was largely favorable to the Governor's plan.

P.A. 95­225's focus on the most serious juvenile offenses resonated well and helped to minimize opposition to the measure from constituencies that wished to preserve the traditional distinctions between the juvenile and criminal systems of justice.337 Reticence about transferring 14- and 15-year-olds was assuaged by the knowledge that the transfer provision would affect a relatively small number of offenders in the State. Any concerns about housing juveniles adjudicated in criminal court in adult corrections facilities were offset by the knowledge that these youth would in fact be placed in a special Department of Corrections facility that would house only younger inmates. Clearly, juveniles would not be housed with significantly older adult offenders.338

Sustaining Momentum

Connecticut has put in motion the most extensive reformation of its juvenile justice system in the State's history. State officials point with pride and some amazement at what has been accomplished in a little more than a year. Most Connecticut State officials who have played a part in juvenile justice reform are optimistic that the reform plan contained in P.A. 95­225 will be fully implemented.

Legislation to implement the custody transfer provision was to be reintroduced in the new legislature, to be seated in January 1997. Implementation legislation is needed, and there undoubtedly will be challenges on that front.

Likewise, Governor Rowland's continued support of the implementation plan is critical. The Governor has consistently championed the necessary funds for juvenile justice system reform in Connecticut. His continued support will be essential in the months to come.

Juvenile justice system reform seems well underway in Connecticut. "We've made a lot of progress; it's a very good change," one State official concluded.339

305. 1995 Conn. Acts 225 (Reg. Sess.). This act was signed into law by Connecticut Gov. John Rowland on June 28, 1995.

306. Id.

307. Telephone Interview with Thomas A. Siconolfi, Director, Policy Development and Planning Division, Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (Oct. 30, 1996) [hereinafter Siconolfi Interview].

308. Id.

309. Id.

310. Id.

311. Id.

312. Id.

313. 1995 Conn. Acts 225, §1 (Reg. Sess.).

314. Juvenile Justice Policy Group, Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, Juvenile Justice Reorganization Plan 2 (1996) [hereinafter Policy group].

315. 1995 Conn. Acts 225, § 1 (Reg. Sess.).

316. Policy Group, supra note 314, at 15.

317. 1995 Conn. Acts 225, § 8 (Reg. Sess.).

318. Policy Group, supra note 314, at 17.

319. 1995 Conn. Acts 225, § 8 (Reg. Sess.).

320. Id.

321. Policy Group, supra note 314, at 20.

322. Id. at 17.

323. Id.

324. Id.

325. Office of the Governor, Governor Rowland's Proposal for Juvenile Justice Reorganization, 2­3 (1996). The transfer of prosecutorial jurisdiction over juvenile offenders from the judicial branch to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney's Division of Criminal Justice took place on July 1, 1996.

326. S. 81, An Act Concerning the Implementation of the Juvenile Justice Reorganization Plan (Conn. 1996).

327. H.R. 5038, An Act Making Adjustments of the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 1997 (Conn. 1996).

328. Siconolfi Interview, supra note 307. Telephone Interview with William H. Carbone, Director, Office of Alternative Sanctions, Judicial Department (Nov. 7, 1996.) [hereinafter Carbone Interview].

329. Siconolfi Interview, supra note 307.

330. Id.

331. Id.

332. Carbone Interview, supra note 328.

333. Siconolfi Interview, supra note 307.

334. Id.

335. Id.

336. Id.

337. Id.

338. Id.

339. Carbone Interview, supra note 328.

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