Kids who can be held accountable and have the root causes of their behaviors addressed in a community setting should not enter the juvenile justice system at all. Youth who do enter the juvenile justice system should be treated fairly and with effective services. The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) was formed in 2001 to advance those principles.
Before Raise the Age, and during the five-year period between the policy’s passage in 2007 and full implementation in 2012, advocates worked with state government leaders to achieve several important reforms:
Both status-offender and delinquency referrals to the juvenile court were lower after Connecticut Raised the Age of adult jurisdiction.
CTJJA always discussed Raise the Age as a policy that was good for youth and public safety, but also fiscally sound — a position that is well supported by research. This presentation appealed even to those Connecticut residents who were not normally engaged in juvenile justice issues. Furthermore, the focus on public safety protected legislators from any potential criticisms of being “soft on crime.”
Through earlier work on broad system improvement, the Alliance had found allies within the Department of Children and Families and the Judicial Branch, the two government entities that run Connecticut’s juvenile justice system. Advocates also worked closely with the Juvenile Justice Planning and Implementation Committee, a legislatively appointed group of stakeholders that developed the specifics of the bill. The Alliance was able to connect agency officials and influential legislators to national experts and research on best practices. It essentially found well-placed people who wanted to do the right thing, then provided support so that they could do just that.
The Alliance reached out through community-based providers to find families affected by the low age of juvenile jurisdiction. It helped families connect to the press so they could share their stories, supported them to testify before the legislature, organized rallies and provided postcards and ecards to contact legislators.
Through extensive press outreach, including a great deal of op-ed placement, the Alliance raised the profile of the issue and largely controlled the narrative. The Alliance and its allies spoke of Raise the Age as commonsense legislation that would improve public safety. Communications were data-driven and stressed that since the system had shrunk because of earlier reforms, it could serve 16- and 17-year-olds. This deflated some of the dramatic (and erroneous) estimates of what Raise the Age might cost.
The campaign gained initial support from then-Governor Jodi Rell in 2005 when 17-year-old David Burgos committed suicide at Manson Youth Institution, a Department of Correction facility for inmates up to age 21. Rell publicly questioned Connecticut’s low age of adult jurisdiction. David, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was imprisoned for a parole violation when he hanged himself. Advocates will always regret that reform in our state came too late for David. The right time to Raise the Age in any state is always now, because the cost of waiting is unacceptable.
How the Raise the Age campaign got started and what strategies it used.
How an extensive study by stakeholders, including skeptics, moved reform forward.
How implementing Raise the Age in stages helped overcome financial concerns.