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Connecticut lawmakers pass juvenile justice bill with diversion plan

File photo of Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A sign is posted outside a bedroom door at the former Connecticut Juvenile Training School in this 2015 file photo. Lawmakers hope to steer more children toward diversionary programs and away from the criminal justice system in the future.

Children in Connecticut who commit low-level crimes will have more alternatives to an arrest after lawmakers passed a bill expanding diversionary programs.

The bill calls on police to refer children to juvenile review boards instead of courts for more offenses, such as breach of the peace and trespassing.

It also establishes a team that will create a pre-arrest diversion plan for children by Jan. 1, 2024.

The plan will evaluate the capacity of youth service bureaus and other agencies that serve children. It will also incorporate feedback from victims, and collect data to track children diverted to youth service bureaus, which coordinate community supports, such as counseling, work placement, and drug and alcohol preventive programs.

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, a New London Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said its passage was the culmination of a lot of work. The final version incorporates language from some other pieces of legislation related to juvenile justice, allowing key provisions to get across the finish line this year, Nolan said.

“I'm just excited for this to come to fruition, and just see it finally reach some of the goals that we've been trying to accomplish over the last few years," Nolan said.

The bill also tasks the Connecticut Judicial Branch with reviewing and updating a plan to securely house and assume custody of children now in the care of the Department of Correction. The agency must submit the plan, with any recommendations for legislation, funding or policy changes, by Dec. 15, 2023, the bill states.

The bill also adds five members to the legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee, which was established in 2014 to oversee the reform of the state’s juvenile justice system.

The additional members include two people under 26-years-old who have experienced the juvenile justice system; a family member of a child, or someone who works with children, in the juvenile justice system; a member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe; and a member of the Mohegan Tribe.

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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