Research shows that adolescents have a high propensity for engaging in risk taking activities given the significant changes in neurology, biology, and other developmental issues (e.g., social; cultural; familial) they experience. Specifically related to decision-making, science shows the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain is underdeveloped until a young person is well into their 20’s. With these findings in mind, how should this influence the way we think about key juvenile justice policies and practices like the age of juvenile jurisdiction?
In Manchester High School, students were being arrested “practically for breathing,” according to Superintendent Ana Ortiz. That’s no longer the case. Last year, the school’s arrest rate fell 78 percent.
Manchester was one of three towns that the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance worked with to dramatically reduce arrests in their schools without compromising safety. We share their stories in our new report, Adult Decisions: Connecticut Rethinks Student Arrests. Manchester, Windham and Stamford, Connecticut deserve heaps of praise for their work to end the flow of kids into the juvenile justice system, while also making their schools safer and more welcoming places for all students.
We started with a simple proposition: Kids shouldn’t be arrested in school for things we wouldn’t consider a crime outside of school – for example, for possession of tobacco. Minor misbehavior should be looked at as an opportunity to teach, not a reason to send a kid away in handcuffs. These districts found ways to support students and teach good behavior. That makes school a better environment for every student.
The tragic and devastating shootings this week in Oregon, California and Connecticut have stunned their communities and the nation. In the wake of this devastation it’s important for the families, communities and children affected to be able to find a way to cope in the aftermath of the event. The Safe Start Center has a variety of resources that can help communities manage and find a way to handle this kind of exposure to violence and trauma.
Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence – A Guide for Families [pdf]
Survivors of these types of events may have been physically and/or emotionally hurt by witnessing the violent event. Children are resilient, but if the child has been affected it may be difficult to identify when something is wrong especially if there are no clear physical signs of harm. The above guide can help in understanding how to help children cope with the “invisible wounds” affecting them emotionally and psychologically.
Connecticut’s 2010 Raise the Age law, which shifted 16-year-old offenders from adult court to juvenile court, has helped to reduce the recidivism rates among juveniles by 7 percentage points, according to data provided by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA).
Recent reports show that more than 83 percent of 16-year-olds completed probation without re-arrest since the law took effect Jan. 1, 2010.
Supporters of the law say that while the change has cost the state millions of dollars upfront, it will save money in the long-term by reducing re-arrests and the associated social costs. That reduction in recidivism is a major goal of a second Raise the Age law that took effect in July, which will treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles.
“The difference between the juvenile system and adult system is that we actually produce (rehabilitative) programs in the juvenile system, whereas the adult system is more focused on punishment,” said Abby Anderson, executive director of CTJJA. Anderson’s organization has been working to get Raise the Age bills enacted in the state legislature since 2005. This summer, Connecticut joined 38 other states in treating youths under age 18 as juveniles in the justice system.
Josue, 15, was born to a 12‐year‐old mother. Exposed to domestic violence and abuse, he struggled in school early on and received a special education evaluation in Grade 4 that found weaknesses in reading, math and writing.
By 13, he had been diagnosed with symptoms of bipolar disorder, depression, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Yet, he started high school with limited support services and ended up suspended from school and referred to the juvenile justice system.
His path through public school is not uncommon in Connecticut cities, according to a new report by the Center for Children’s Advocacy, a Connecticut nonprofit that provides legal support for abused and neglected children. The report, which examined school records of 102 youths referred to the Center, found that early warning signs of mental and behavioral health problems often went unheeded until the middle school years—when interventions came too late.
The numbers tell this story: Children who live in Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven regions are more likely to be arrested and enter state custody than children who live elsewhere in the state, including Bridgeport, which has the largest juvenile population.
What the numbers don't tell is why, and this is what the state's new chief juvenile judge wants to know.
"It's a bit ironic because Bridgeport has the biggest population, but we do not have the largest number of kids going through the court system," said Judge Carol A. Wolven, who before being named the chief administrative judge for juvenile matters presided for years over family and juvenile courts in Bridgeport.
"When you go into a courthouse, you should find the same policies, the same forms and the same procedures. It should be consistent throughout the state," the judge said during an interview in her chambers before heading into court earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the statistics are striking. For every 1,000 children in the Hartford region, 59 at some point last year were arrested or referred to court. In Bridgeport, however, 37 of every 1,000 of its children face criminal charges. The numbers are all according to the state's Office of Policy and Management.
What's more, the numbers show that in 2009, 2010 and last year, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury all had the highest rates of children entering the court system.