At any given time many children are in the care of Connecticut’s juvenile justice system. Everyone agrees their personal stories are troublesome, but it is also important to understand each story can be turned in a more positive direction if we as adults commit to helping each child based on their individual needs.

This is the premise behind a series of recommendations the Children’s League of Connecticut (CLOC) has presented to the state Department of Children and Families(DCF), legislators and other policy-makers. The Children’s League is a group of seven companies that provide social service support to children and families in the juvenile justice system.

It is vitally important that these proposals be considered now as the legislature tries to develop a new two-year budget. If correctly implemented, CLOC’s proposals can reduce taxpayer cost and improve outcomes.

CLOC’s most recent set of recommendations is based on more than seven months of discussion with leaders of DCF, the Office of the Child Advocate, other government officials, child advocacy and child welfare agencies. A common theme in all of our discussions confirms the general belief that Connecticut has the resources, expertise and commitment to strengthen the support we offer children in our juvenile justice system in a manner that gives them a chance to succeed as adults.

At the core is a policy that places a greater emphasis on individual treatment and less emphasis on inflexible periods of incarceration based on adult-style sentencing guidelines. We acknowledge that in some cases it is appropriate for juveniles who have broken the law to be placed in locked facilities, but as a matter of public policy the goal should be to transition those children out of incarceration as soon as it is safe to do so.

As CLOC suggested in a previous policy brief to DCF, we believe the government of the state of Connecticut should retain responsibility for the management of all locked juvenile justice facilities, but responsibility for treatment in locked and non-locked facilities based in community settings, should be given to private sector providers of such services. Our latest proposal takes that policy a step further.

CLOC believes we can achieve greater results for children in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system if we can move them out of incarcerated facilities as quickly as possible. Length of incarceration should be determined based on on-going individual case assessment rather than on the fulfillment of a fixed-term sentence set by a juvenile court. The sooner we can get children out of incarceration and into an individualized program of community based care the better it is for everyone – but most especially for the children we are trying to help.

To make sure we can deliver services based on individual and family needs – in a community based setting – we continue to advocate for the establishment of transitional care centers located strategically in different regions of the state. The population of children in our juvenile justice system is small enough that it can best be managed using this approach.

The Children’s League of Connecticut is encouraged by the willingness of state officials to help us in developing these policy options and the support we have received so far. Keep in mind that children in the juvenile justice system are just that – children. They are at the beginning of their lives and though they may face challenges we have the opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives as adults if we place our focus on helping them rather than on punishing them.

Alan Deckman serves as the Executive Director of the Children’s League of Connecticut.

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