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Connecticut will speed up court process for some juvenile offenders

Hartford detention center
Kelan Lyons / CTMirror.org
A sign is pictured outside the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters and Detention Center on Broad Street in Hartford.

After major disruptions brought on by the pandemic, Connecticut’s juvenile court system will strive to handle some cases more quickly to help curb repeat crime.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday said the court system will aim to get juvenile offenders in front of a judge within one day of being arrested. That effort will focus on teens facing weapons or vehicle theft charges, according to a spokesperson for the state’s Judicial Branch.

The news comes after an investigation by Connecticut Public showed juvenile delinquency cases here stalled during the pandemic, leaving many troubled teenagers in limbo.

Advocates for youth say speeding up the process is important because courts steer many of those kids into essential services, such as counseling and summer jobs.

Speaking on Connecticut Public’s Where We Live, the governor acknowledged the state has room to improve, and said holding initial court appearances more quickly will help.

"That means we get them to the right social work, the right type of support, the right mentors, the right job training,” Lamont said.

Before COVID-19 lockdowns began, juvenile offenders in Connecticut typically waited about eight business days to appear in court for the first time. That number shot up to about 10 weeks last summer, according to new information provided by the Judicial Branch last month.

Youth advocates believe the delays contributed to a spike in auto theft and other crimes.

Those slowdowns commenced after the state shuttered all but two of its 15 juvenile courts last year due to the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Branch said all juvenile courts have now reopened. Delinquency cases are also moving more quickly; an internal analysis released by the Judicial Branch last month shows most cases are currently resolved in about four months – slightly longer than before the pandemic, but down from six months during the summer of 2020.

"We've got a long way to go, but we're so much better off today than we were six months ago when the pandemic was striking us down," Lamont said.

A bump in auto thefts and some other crimes continues to fuel a heated debate about how Connecticut handles juvenile offenders.

Critics say children who break the law get too many chances. But reform advocates say the state should increase services for troubled kids and keep more out of the criminal justice system.

CT Public’s Accountability Project examined the subject in a series of investigative reports published in October, which described how high-risk juvenile offenders are handled, examined misleading portrayals of youth crime and explored potential solutions.

Reporting by the Accountability Project also showed that hundreds of teens waited months longer for their delinquency cases to be resolved last year, delaying access to important services.

While those delays have decreased, many with experience in the state’s juvenile court system say flaws remain.

Speaking at a panel discussion Wednesday hosted by CT Mirror, parent Ramon Garcia said his son was charged with stealing a car. Garcia, who was himself a juvenile offender, said he believes speeding up delinquency cases won’t address systemic issues, or lessen the harm children suffer when they’re incarcerated.

“Seeing their parents or their mother, and not being released was devastating,” Garcia said. “And to be told that you’re going to be sent back to a cage, it can be extremely traumatic.”

Read more on the "Juveniles, Joyrides, & Justice" series:

Do you have a story that needs to be investigated? Submit your news tips here or email us at tips@ctpublic.org

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas was an investigative reporter with Connecticut Public’s Accountability Project from July 2021 until August 2022.
Jim Haddadin is a data journalist for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer for NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Walter Smith Randolph is the Investigative Editor and Director of The Accountability Project at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. The New York City native comes to CT Public after a decade of reporting at local tv stations across the country.