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Youth diversion programs can save offenders and give victims closure. CT bill looks to expand access

The Superior Court for Juvenile Matters and Detention Center is on Broad Street in Hartford.
Kelan Lyons
The Superior Court for Juvenile Matters and Detention Center is on Broad Street in Hartford.

A bill creating a juvenile diversion program may provide help and opportunities to students who are chronically absent or have committed minor offenses.

A bill creating a juvenile diversion program, supported by two key state legislative committees, may provide help and opportunities to “students who are chronically absent” or have committed one or two minor offenses.

Diversionary programs for youth accused of crimes have become increasingly common in Connecticut over the past decade, as youth detention facilities have seen reducing populations.

This bill would require the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and the chief court administrator to provide a point of contact for children seeking diversion services. It would also set standards for eligibility and referrals for services like anger management, substance abuse treatment and family counseling. The proposal is supported by the state's appropriations and judiciary committees.

The bill would prioritize collecting data detailing the performance of youth service bureaus, said Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, who helped introduce the bill. Municipalities run youth services bureaus themselves or through private organizations. They are meant to provide resources and opportunities for children and their families.

“We want to have a reflection of what these things are showing when they implement them,” Nolan said. “So the data — from how much it's working, the advantages of it, identifying what programs are working, what programs are not — those are some of the identifiers we are looking at.”

If successful, Nolan said, the program will help reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Christina Quaranta, the executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance, said diversion is “the choice that will help young people be able to learn from their mistakes” and “have the victim get some closure and feel like some amends have been made.”

“Looking at all the research that's been done over many years, we know that diversion and allowing young people to have a chance to restore and repair the harm that was made, is the better choice,” Quaranta said.

Nolan said he expects the bill will come to a vote before the end of the session this week.

Ashad Hajela is CT Public's Tow Fellow for Race, Youth and Justice with Connecticut Public's Accountability Project. He can be reached at ahajela@ctpublic.org.

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