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Connecticut Closes Last Large Youth Prison

April 30, 2018
Josh Gordon

Earlier this month, Connecticut became the first state to close its last large youth prison in the youth justice system. We applaud NJJN member Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) for their incredible advocacy to achieve this victory.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, “the Connecticut Juvenile Training School was an ill-advised and costly relic of the Rowland era. It placed young boys in a prison-like facility, making rehabilitation, healing, and growth more challenging.”

We spoke with CTTJJA’s Executive Director Abby Anderson about the success.

Q: How was this victory possible?

A: “This victory is the result of concentrated, persistent effort over decades. It has come through the utilization of about every advocacy tool imaginable: in-depth research and data, personal stories and anecdotes, sitting at "insider" tables, working as "outsider" provocateurs, community education, youth and community focus groups, and youth speaking their own stories and needs, cumulative legislative victories and changes, the state investing in more front-end services that worked and eroded the number of youth escalating through the system and ‘graduating’ to secure care.

This was a culmination of a lot of initiatives and a lot of people who worked together across missions and areas of specialization for one common objective. We worked to highlight the fact that CT's youth justice system reflects racial and ethnic disparities, reduce school arrests, amplify youth and family voices, focus on restorative justice and diversion, ensure youth with mental health needs aren't seen as delinquent, and to keep status offenders out of detention and the courts. All of these efforts created system players, legislators, budget writers, service providers, advocates and others who all understand the need to ensure our juvenile justice system is small and rehabilitative.”

Q: What advice would you give to youth justice advocates seeking similar reform?

A: “Our advice is to understand that this is a long fight and we must be determined, persistent and set short and medium term goals to mark progress on our way to bigger overall goals. I encourage advocates to build a big base of partners and to ensure collaboration. The more people who are invested in your shared goal, the broader your movement will be and the more people will be talking from the same bullet points. A broad coalition also helps keep you going when the fight feels too long and it feels like you aren't making progress.

Q: What’s next for CTJJA?

A: “So much! The facility is closed, but we still need to do the work of building out the full array of alternative programs and services. We need to ensure that the dollars that used to be allocated to lock kids up are instead allocated to community programs and some small, therapeutic, secure facilities for that small percentage of kids who need them. Connecticut is in a severe fiscal crisis and our kids, families and communities are easily overlooked and left behind when dollars are tight.

The system in CT is small - and that's fantastic. However, it means that the kids who are left in that system are the most marginalized, the most discriminated against and the ones with the most needs. There is a lot to be done in our state around racial justice. There is a lot to be done for girls, for LGBTQ youth, for homeless youth, for youth with significant trauma and mental health and developmental needs. With the system shrinking, the kids left are the ones that other systems can reject as "too hard to serve." And that's unacceptable. To address these issues, CTJJA is focusing on co-developing priority areas and strategies alongside those with first and second-hand system experience. Our Justice Advisors are a cohort of young adults with those experiences. We are working with them to understand how to expand and sustain the opportunities for them and their peers to drive the ongoing efforts to redefine and recreate youth justice in Connecticut.”  

Learn more about CTJJA’s mission to end the criminalization of CT’s youth here.

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