Abby Anderson is executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, an advocacy organization that consistently wins major victories for at-risk youth. Anderson took the reins at CTJJA in 2007 as the fiscal crisis hit the state and the country. She protected hard-won reforms, such as the Raise the Age bill, which removed many teens from adult courts and facilities. Abby has served as co-chair of the Executive Committee of the National Juvenile Justice Network since 2007 and was formerly on the Executive Board of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
Connecticut’s juvenile justice system has seen tremendous reform in the past 10 years. As a new report by the Justice Policy Institute points out, we’ve diverted kids from the juvenile system, provided better services for those inside it and kept kids out of the adult system. These reforms have been accompanied by a declining youth crime rate and a decreasing burden on taxpayers. So many people deserve credit for these advances, including enlightened public officials, inspired funders and tenacious advocates. But what made them so successful?
Connecticut just made a major policy change that will protect kids and reduce crime. You probably didn’t notice. That’s understandable. The Raise the Age campaign that pushed for this legislation didn’t run television commercials or send out mailers. We couldn’t afford them.
In Connecticut, you need a good reason to arrest a kid. That shouldn’t be any big surprise. But to advocates who’ve witnessed decades of increases in school-based arrests for things like dress code violations and running in the hallway, it’s huge. Connecticut’s judicial branch is now rejecting delinquency summonses and status offender complaints unless “the facts, if true, would be sufficient to be a juvenile matter, and whether the interests of the public or the child require that further action be taken …” If Judicial’s Court Supportive Service Division [juvenile probation officers] rejects an arrest, the arresting officer and the youth’s parents will receive a letter informing them of services in the community that could more appropriately address the problem behavior. The credit for this enlightened policy goes largely to Court Supportive Service Division Executive Director William Carbone, who has been a champion of good, evidence-based programming throughout his tenure.