Home News Center Connecticut Pushes for Continued Reforms after 10 Years of Raise the Age

Connecticut Pushes for Continued Reforms after 10 Years of Raise the Age

February 27, 2020
Courtney McSwain and Alyson Clements

This month, NJJN member Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the passage of “Raise the Age,” which increased the age of youth jurisdiction to 18 in the state. The occasion was a fitting reminder of what can be achieved by bringing together a coalition of stakeholders with a shared vision.

“We were able to pass the legislation because we had a broad coalition working together including state agencies and government stakeholders, advocates and parents. We had a common vision that brought us together – and that was the overarching goal of treating kids like kids,” said Abby Anderson, Executive Director of CTJJA. 

Notably, as a result of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, the notion that “kids should be treated as kids” has stuck, resulting in legislation passed in 2019 requiring the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Commission to create a plan to get all kids out of adult facilities by 2020. The hope being that in 2020 all youth under 18 can be removed from prison-like environments, instead relying on intensive, individualized, wrap-around supports in the community to youth and their families as alternatives to incarceration or out-of-home placement, with those who need out-of-home treatment being in small, therapeutic, juvenile facilities.

Raise the Age and other reforms have resulted in lower youth crime rates and long term system savings. Indeed, shortly after the legislation began implementation, the reduction in youth crime led to the closure of one of the state’s youth detention centers. While juvenile justice saw crippling cuts during the middle of the last decade, during the 2019 legislative session, CTJJA advocated to restore an allocation of $11 million in funds, which are needed to create a continuum of services in the community or small and rehabilitative residential programs that provide alternatives to our youth prison (Connecticut Juvenile Training School) that closed in 2018.

As CTJJA looks back at the positive results of raising the age, work remains.  In addition to focusing on getting kids out of adult prisons, attention has turned to raising the age of minimum arrest from 7 to 12 so that young children are not exposed to the harms of the justice system.

But perhaps the most pressing issue that remains is addressing the disproportionate number of black and brown youth who are in the system. “We got a lot of kids out of the system, but we’ve also seen the proportion of kids in our system who are black and brown go up,” Anderson said. “We’ve learned that we have to be intentional about addressing racial injustices. We have to examine what’s happening in our system that works for white children that doesn’t work for black and brown children.”

Part of CTJJA’s strategy work to specifically reduce disparities in the justice system, is to center youth directly impacted by the justice system through its Justice Advisors program.  “Our biggest achievement in 2019 was not legislative but was the further development of our Justice Advisors and our youth/adult partnership.  Our Justice Advisor colleagues have deepened our understanding of true solutions as well as an additional layer of urgency to our actions.  The growth of their confidence, leadership, and power as a group and individually is inspiring and motivating.”

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To learn more about the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, visit them online at their website, Facebook and Twitter.

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