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Voices Speaking

July 8, 2019

Connecticut Voices Hires Emily Byrne as Executive Director

Emily ByrneFollowing an extensive search, Connecticut Voices for Children is pleased to announce that we have chosen a new Executive Director with wide-ranging experience and a record of leadership in government and nonprofit organizations. Emily Byrne has begun her work as leader of the organization this week.

“Emily brings a wealth of management experience and a lifelong commitment to improving opportunities for Connecticut’s children and families. With Emily at the helm, I am confident that Connecticut Voices will continue to build on its successes and its reputation for effective, research-based advocacy,” said David Nee, Chairperson of Connecticut Voices’ Board of Directors.

Byrne, a long-time Connecticut resident, has extensive experience in developing education, housing, economic development and anti-poverty policies and programs. She has organized and led advocacy campaigns on local, state and federal legislation affecting children and families. A public servant by training, she started her career as a policy analyst for the City of New Haven, where she helped design the nation’s first municipal identification card for all residents, regardless of their immigration status. Since then she has held various governmental leadership positions at the state and local levels, including roles as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Connecticut State Department of Education and Director of Strategy and Innovation at the New Haven Housing Authority. Most notably, she was the founding Executive Director of New Haven Promise.

“Connecticut Voices for Children has been a provenance of progressive policies, rooted in research, that support the state’s most vulnerable children and families for nearly twenty-five years. Together—with communities and partners—we endeavor to build upon past efforts in service of equitable, inclusive change and justice,” said Byrne. “I am honored and humbled to lead the organization into the next quarter century of its work so that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 10, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Countdown to the End of the Session

 

Legislative Update: Countdown to the End of the Session

There are fewer than four weeks left in the state legislative session, and this is a key time to contact your legislators about your priorities for children and families.

Raise your voice for fair and adequate state revenues

Connecticut has the opportunity this year to make significant progress toward improved access to high-quality early care and health care, as well as protecting the rights of youth in foster care and restoring funds for juvenile justice services. But without adequate revenues to close a recently estimated $3 billion budget gap over the next two years, more painful cuts that could fall most heavily on children and low-income families are all too likely.

Connecticut also needs to fix our upside down tax system, in which the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than low- and middle-income people to fund the programs and services vital to the well-being of our children and families. As we discussed in our recent summary, the revenue proposal by the General Assembly’s Finance Committee takes some positive steps in this direction by raising revenues through a surcharge on capital gains for high-income residents and by closing some corporate tax loopholes. However, the Committee’s proposal falls $340 million short of the revenues proposed by Governor Lamont for the next two years.

Another revenue proposal under discussion by legislators and advocates is a higher personal income tax rate for residents in the highest tax brackets. The state legislative session ends in less than one month on June 5, so the final shape of the state revenue and spending plans will be negotiated soon.

Please take a moment today to send a message to your legislators and the Governor, asking them to raise taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers, who currently pay less than their fair share!

Legislative budget plan avoids major cuts, but investments limited by budget rules

While the budget bill passed by the Appropriations Committee protects many programs that serve children and families from budget cuts, rigid and counterproductive budget rules are starving schools, infrastructure, and health systems of the spending needed to support critical investments.

As we explored in our latest report, the Appropriations Committee’s spending plan includes funding for some of our key priorities, including the preservation of coverage for parents of children in the HUSKY health insurance program, start-up costs for a public option to expand health insurance coverage, and restored funding for juvenile justice services. However, implementing these measures depends on raising adequate revenues. And our capacity to make the bolder investments we need in children and families continues to be limited by budget rules like the Bond Lock and the volatility, revenue, and spending caps.

Minimum wage hike approved by the House

Legislation to increase the minimum wage in Connecticut to $15 over the next four years was approved by the Connecticut House on Thursday! The bill includes a provision for a lower “training wage” for 16 and 17 year-olds for the first 90 days of their employment. The bill now moves to the Senate, where a vote may be scheduled soon.

Paid family and medical leave bill awaits floor vote

Recently, advocates have been pressing legislators to ensure that the paid family and medical leave bill ensures that all workers have access to paid leave, regardless of the size of their employer. They are also advocating for a definition of family that includes chosen family, which can be important to ensure that children in non-traditional families can still receive the care they need. The bill may get a floor vote in the Senate soon.

National partners join Voices in support of capital gains surcharge

Staff experts from our national partners – Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Aidan Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy – joined Jamie Mills of Connecticut Voices for Children in submitting powerful testimony before the Finance Committee in support of a modest surcharge on capital gains earned by our wealthiest residents.

 

Teach-In on the State Budget

Join us at a teach-in on state budget solutions on Tuesday, where Jamie Mills, Director of Fiscal Policy and Economic Inclusion at Connecticut Voices for Children, will discuss how Connecticut’s regressive tax system contributes to growing inequality and how the state’s rigid budget rules exacerbate budget problems. She’ll also explore revenue solutions that can enable us to fund vital priorities for children and families.

The teach-in, sponsored by the DUE Justice Coalition, will take place on Tuesday, May 14 at 10 a.m. in Room 1B at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Please spread the word and share the event flyer. We’ll see you there!

 

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
March 26, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Reforming the justice system, expanding early care and health care

Speaking Out on Juvenile Justice and Health Care

This week, Connecticut Voices staff are submitting testimony in support of legislation that would reform our justice system and improve health equity:

  • Improving transparency in the justice system. We support Senate Bill 880, which would require Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice to produce public reports on prosecutorial data, including defendant demographics, alleged offenses, sentencing decisions, diversionary offerings, and plea deal offerings. This will allow Connecticut to detect points of racial bias within our justice system, and transparent data reporting will strengthen the procedural justice of our system.
  • Promoting age-appropriate treatment of court-involved youth. We support House Bill 7387, which would offer youth the opportunity to participate in a court-ordered class or program and allow courts to favorably consider the successful completion of a program when determining whether the case should remain in juvenile court. It is inappropriate to incarcerate youth in adult prisons, and Connecticut should be working to ensure that fewer children are tried as adults.
  • Removing youth from adult correction facilities. We support sections of House Bill 7389 that would remove youth under the age of 18 from the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction, and implement recommendations of the Office of the Child Advocate pertaining to suicide, solitary confinement, behavioral health programming, family engagement, and use of force against youth in conditions of confinement.
  • Improving health equity through community health workers. We support Senate Bill 859, which would establish a community health worker certification process as a step towards health equity in Connecticut. Community health workers come from the communities where they work and address barriers to health care and unmet needs.  They can help to close the gap between a person’s life circumstances and the treatment available through traditional health systems.

You can find additional recent testimony on our website.

 

Moving Forward on Early Education and Health Care Bills

Legislative committees recently gave children and families cause to celebrate. The Education Committee voted to approve two bills that would expand eligibility for the Care 4 Kids child care subsidy program – Senate Bills 933 and 934. These bills have been referred to the Appropriations Committee for a vote. For more on these proposals, see our testimony. The Committee also approved Senate Bill 936, which implements recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood.

Legislation that would provide Medicaid and HUSKY B coverage to all uninsured, income-eligible children, regardless of their immigration status, was approved by the Human Services Committee. See our testimony for our recommendations on Senate Bill 1053.

The Human Service and Insurance Committees have, respectively, approved two bills with a goal of establishing a public health insurance coverage option -- House Bills 7339 and 7267. To learn more about these bills and our recommendations, see our testimony on House Bill 7339, which would create a working group to make recommendations about the establishment of a public option and House Bill 7267, which would create a public option plan.

 

Issue Areas:
Early Care, Health, Juvenile Justice
March 14, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Legislative Highlights, Educational Disparity Data

March 14, 2019

Highlights of Our Work at the Capitol

The General Assembly continues to hold hearings in several key committees. Connecticut Voices for Children testified recently on a variety of bills affecting children and families. These are some highlights:

  • Speaking up for low wage working families. Jamie Mills testified in support of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 5004, which would raise the state's minimum wage to $15. As Jamie explained in her testimony and in an op-ed published recently, we need to both pay workers a living wage and adjust our system of public supports to ensure that improved wages do not result in the loss of resources such as Medicaid and child care subsidies.
  • Protecting public investments in children and families. Subcommittees of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee held public hearings on the Governor's budget proposal. Our staff submitted testimony on elements of his budget plan that affect children and families served by health programs, the Department of Children and Families, the Judicial Branch, and the State Department of Education and Office of Early Childhood.
  • Calling for equitable and expanded educational opportunities. Wendy Waithe Simmons testified on several bills that would bring us closer to establishing equitable education opportunities. These include bills that would expand eligibility for Care 4 Kids child care subsidies and improve on low compensation for early care and education providers. For more information on how we can improve access to Care 4 Kids, see our fact sheet.
  • Protecting youth in foster care. Jessica Nelson testified in support of House Bill 6403, "An Act Concerning a Children in Care Bill of Rights and Expectations and the Sibling Bill of Rights." This legislation directly addresses concerns expressed by youth in foster care about opportunities to connect to their schools and communities and express their identities. The bill was approved by the Committee on Children. For more information, see our fact sheet.
  • Ensuring age-appropriate treatment of court-involved youth. Adult courts are not equipped to provide children with therapeutic, developmentally-informed services to help them become productive adults, and Black and Brown children are disproportionately more likely to be transferred to adult prison than their white peers. Lauren Ruth testified in opposition to House Bill 7332, which would loosen the statutes defining when the court may choose to transfer youth from juvenile court to adult court.

Also, this Friday, March 15, the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 877, which would implement the Governor's revenue proposals. We will submit testimony on this legislation and will oppose House Bill 6031, which would phase out the estate tax.

Thank You for Signing On to Protect Access to Educational Disparity Data!

Connecticut Voices would like to express our gratitude to the 39 organizations and 81 individuals who signed onto our letter to the Education Committee calling on its members to oppose Senate Bill 851! Your support can help us to preserve access to vital data that enable us to measure and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in education among our state's children and youth. This legislation, which could come up for a committee vote soon, would limit the ability to examine education data by student ethnicity, making it difficult to detect ethnic disparities in access to high-quality education or to measure the impact of reforms on specific student populations. To learn more, see our sign-on letter, fact sheet, and testimony.

Our Latest State Budget Reports

If you missed them, be sure to download our latest reports on the state budget:

  • Impact of the Governor's FY 2020-2021 Budget on Children and Families. Governor Lamont's proposed state budget avoids additional major cuts to essential programs and services for children and families, though it is based on revenue proposals that fall most heavily on our lowest income taxpayers. It asks little of our highest income taxpayers.
    Download the report
  • Connecticut's Radical New Budget Rules: Locking in Decreased Investment in our State for the Next Decade. Connecticut's rigid fiscal rules will ensure that Connecticut remains in a permanent state of fiscal deprivation, starving our schools, health systems and infrastructure of crucial investments.
    Download the report and fact sheet

Additional Recent Testimony

In addition to the legislative testimony described above, we delivered the following testimony on bills in recent weeks:

You can always find all of our legislative testimony on our website.

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 17, 2018

End of the Session Update: New Paths to Opportunity

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

End-of-Session Update:

New Paths to Opportunity

The 2018 legislative session came to a close Wednesday, with the usual flurry of late-night votes and budget negotiations. It has been an unusually busy, and in many ways exceptionally successful, short session, with many of our priority bills making it to the Governor's desk, with the promise of opening new paths to opportunity for many Connecticut children and families.

On the fiscal side, unexpectedly high revenues allowed the restoration of funding to many key programs. As a result, legislators renewed and even expanded some much-needed investments in transportation, health insurance coverage, education, juvenile justice, and early childhood.

Legislators also made important reforms to the Bond Lock: our top priority this session. Our end-of-session legislative report will provide detail as to how changes to the duration of the Bond Lock coupled with changes in the volatility cap mechanism have improved state policy, even as we acknowledge the need for ongoing work to assure fiscal responsibility, adequacy, and sustainability.

As we work on our budget analysis and legislative reviews, we extend our heartfelt thanks to the many legislators, advocates, policymakers, and friends with whom we have worked to ensure that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to succeed. We deeply appreciate your leadership, insights, and hard work, without which none of the legislative victories described below would have been possible. It has been an eventful and at times challenging legislative session, but together we are moving equity and opportunity forward in our state.

 

Legislative Priorities

Key Bills that We Supported:

HUSKY A Parent Eligibility Restoration. The increase in revenues this year allowed the General Assembly to restore HUSKY A health insurance coverage for 13,000 low-income parents (we explained why this matters here and here). The Medicaid Strategy Group and Protect Our Care CT provided admirable support in raising awareness about the impact of the HUSKY cuts, and were key champions on their reversal.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior To The Transfer Of A Child To A New Placement. A bill that emerged from our Youth at the Capitol event, it instructs the Department of Children and Families to provide at least 10 days notice to children and youth in foster care before they are moved to a new home. It received unanimous support in both chambers. Thank you to Senator Paul Formica and Senator Len Suzio for championing this bill, and thank you to Senator Marilyn Moore, Representative Diana Urban, and Representative Lezlye Zupkus for prioritizing this as a Committee Bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. This bill creates an oversight structure for DCF to continue monitoring its performance after the Juan F. consent decree expires. Approved with widespread support by both chambers, we want to recognize the leadership of Sarah Eagan, the Child Advocate and the partnership of the Alliance for Children's Mental Health, and the Center for Children's Advocacy, as well as Representative Toni Walker, Senator Len Suzio, and Senator Len Fasano. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 455 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment. The bill passed both chambers with nearly unanimous support, including several amendments that made it stronger. We want to highlight the great work of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Senator Douglas McCrory, Senator Gayle Slossberg, Senator Toni Boucher, Representative Andrew Fleischmann, and Representative Gail Lavielle in the approval of this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5449 An Act Concerning The Administration Of Certain Early Childhood Programs And The Provision Of Early Childhood Services By The Office Of Early Childhood. This OEC agency bill makes a number of statutory changes to better serve young children, including enabling increased rates for School Readiness and Child Day Care Center and new forms of program evaluation. We strongly supported this bill due to a section that enabled prioritization of infants and toddlers and other high-need populations (such as homeless families) when Care 4 Kids is operating with a waitlist, thereby helping to ensure that the most vulnerable children and families don’t have to wait long for the child care they need. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5041 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Juvenile Services From The Department Of Children And Families To The Court Support Services Division Of The Judicial Branch. Approved with widespread bipartisan support, this bill creates the structure for the creation of community-based diversion system for juvenile offenders. We worked on this bill as part of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee’s diversion group, in close collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute, the Child Health and Development Institute, the State Department of Education and Juvenile Review Boards. Read our testimony here.

 

Celebrating Legislative Partnerships:

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. This bill requires that certain bills include a racial and ethnic impact statement at the request of any legislator. Connecticut is the first state in the country to adopt this policy. Both chambers passed the bill with widespread bipartisan support (unanimously in the Senate, 104-44 in the House). We want to thank Senator Gary Winfield, Commissioner Subira Gordon and Werner Oyanandel for their leadership on this issue. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women. Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to enact this legislation implementing a set of policies to improve the treatment of female inmates in Connecticut’s prisons. Floor amendments improved an already strong bill to include protections for transgender inmates, that passed unanimously in both chambers. The Commission on Equity and Opportunity and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England championed this bill to passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5210 An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage Of Essential Health Benefits And Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents. This bill protects essential healthcare for women and children and was passed by both chambers with widespread bipartisan support. Many thanks to Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Representative Sean Scanlon for spearheading this bill and to Protect our Care Connecticut and for their collaboration ensuring its passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5517 An Act Concerning Executive Branch Data Management and Processes. This bill codifies the creation of a state Chief Data Officer to coordinate data gathering and sharing across all state agencies. It passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Read our testimony here.

SB 312: An Act Concerning The Needs Of Children With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities. This bill requires the Commissioner of DCF to develop and integrate procedures and practices that are responsive to the needs of children with disabilities at all points of the child welfare system. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. We want to thank the Office of the Child Advocate for their leadership on this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5169: An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood. This bill creates a 90-day grace period for vaccinations and physicals for homeless children enrolling in child care. Lowering barriers to accessing child care for homeless families helps keep kids safe, enables parents to work to support themselves, and provides stability for the whole family. It passed unanimously in both chambers. We commend the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Office of Early Childhood, and allies throughout the early childhood community for this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5470 An Act Concerning The Provision Of Timely Notice Of Child Placement Information From The Department Of Children And Families To The Attorney Or Guardian Ad Litem Representing The Child In A Child Protection Matter. The Center for Children’s Advocacy championed this bill, that passed both chambers unanimously. This bill complements S.B. 323 to help ensure that foster children have appropriate support from their attorney or guardian ad litem when they transition between homes. Read our testimony here.

 

Key Bills We Opposed that Were Defeated:

S.B. 270 An Act Concerning Work And Community Service Requirements For Recipients Of Certain Public Assistance Programs. The bill would have added work and community service requirements and asset testing for adults under age 65 receiving HUSKY (Medicaid) insurance. It also would have barred the Department of Social Services from applying federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) waivers for high-unemployment areas. These changes would have added enormous administrative burden for the state while increasing the likelihood that eligible families would lose care due to red tape. The bill did not receive a vote in committee. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5445 An Act Concerning The Development Of Policies Regarding The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education. The bill  removed minimum education requirements for expelled students, potentially leaving them behind on their education. Although it made it out of committee, but was not put up for a vote in the House. We worked closely with the Center for Children's Advocacy and Connecticut Legal Services to push back on this proposal. You can read our testimony here.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design and Short-term Care Policies. This bill and two others would have allowed insurers to offer short-term plans and insurance options with high-out-of-pocket costs and limited benefits. Such plans expose families to debt and can make insurance coverage unaffordable to use. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. Read our testimony here.

S.B.316 An Act Establishing A Child Care Facility Neighbor Relations Task Force. This bill would have created a task force to address neighborhood concerns with local group homes without representation from any youth or staff - thereby risking further stigmatization and harm to children in DCF care. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The Alliance of Community Nonprofits was a key partner defeating this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification To Boards Of Education Of The Release Of A Juvenile Sexual Offender And A Model Policy Concerning The Reentry Of Such Juveniles Into The School System. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The bill is similar to one introduced last year. It lacked key privacy protections for ex-offenders, running counter to research on rehabilitation and recidivism. We worked closely with the Juvenile Justice Alliance and the Office of the Chief Public Defender to educate legislators on the dangers of this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B.187 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket. The Senate referred this bill to the Judiciary Committee that voted it down. It would have expanded the number of juvenile cases that could be transferred to adult criminal courts. We want to thank the Office of the Chief Public Defender, the Juvenile Justice Alliance and Center for Children's Advocacy, the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, and African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP) for their support to defeat this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5584:  An Act Establishing a Tax Credit for Employers that Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits and Concerning Family and Medical Leave Accounts.The bill reached the House, but did not get a vote. While we applaud Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) as a policy, this bill would have limited the number of people would could access PFML while costing the state revenue. Read our testimony in opposition here.

S.B. 359: An Act Prohibiting The Disaggregation Of Student Data By Ethnic Subgroups In The Public School Information System.The bill did not receive a vote in Committee. Helping lawmakers understand the value and necessity of disaggregated data for opening pathways to opportunity was a team effort, and we’d like to recognize the partnership of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Health Equity Solutions, the Connecticut Association of Human Services, the Khmer Health Advocates, and the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut. Read our testimony here.

The Volatility Cap

The General Assembly revised budget introduced some welcome changes to the volatility cap. Under the old system, any revenue raised from estimates and finals above $3.15 billion went to the Budget Reserve Fund, without any further adjustments. The cap level, however, set a hard limit, without ties to actual volatility or accounting for economic growth or the overall budget situation.

The new provision indexes the actual cap to growth in personal income, allowing the revenue set aside to track economic activity. In addition, the General Assembly can raise the cap level with a three-fifths majority in both chambers to respond to changes in the tax code or economic growth.

Representative Vin Candelora has been a strong voice for a responsible, nuanced and flexible volatility cap in Connecticut, and we thank him for his leadership.

Lawmakers also introduced changes to the Bond Lock, limiting its application to five years. We are evaluating the legislative language included in the implementer to fully understand its implications, but we thank Representative Jason Rojas for raising the bill that made the Bond Lock a discussion amongst the legislature.

Analysis: Budget Proposals

We are working on a full-length analysis of the budget right now; expect to hear from us in the coming days. The overall picture is that increased revenues enabled the General Assembly to restore funding or limit cuts to several key programs. Nevertheless, legislators only made modest progress in tackling Connecticut’s structural deficits, leaving a challenging budget scenario for the 2019 legislative session. The CT Mirror, as usual, has a good overview.

Federal Update: CHIP Rescissions, SNAP Updates

  • The White House is set to request a rescission package this week, asking Congress to rescind funds previously allocated by Congress and signed into law — the first installment in what’s expected to become a larger Trump administration push to clamp down on government spending. The request will likely include cuts to CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). Vox has more on this proposal.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly Food Stamps—provides low-income households with a monthly benefit that is redeemable only for food. More than 400,000 Connecticut residents relied on this program last year alone. Congress may soon vote on proposed changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. These changes would increase food insecurity and hardship for children in low-income families, while increasing the state’s administrative burden. Click here to download our issue brief about the potential impact of the cuts in Connecticut.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 8, 2018

Juvenile Justice Reform Must Maintain Its Focus on Prevention

Lauren Ruth, Ph.D.

A month ago, as a result of decades of juvenile justice reform, Connecticut celebrated the landmark closing of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), its last large juvenile prison. Instead of a secluded facility far from youths’ communities, Connecticut will now rely on a network of smaller facilities that are informed by childhood and youth development. The closure of CJTS should not be viewed as the end of juvenile justice reform, but rather as a shift in the state’s approach to juvenile justice to one that asks how we can work towards preventing youth from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell.

Prevention, evidence-based programs, wrap-around services, and community supports for at-risk youth and their families can greatly reduce juvenile justice involvement. Preventative efforts are more cost-effective than relying on expensive court proceedings, and they help to open pathways toward responsible citizenship and opportunity for the youth they serve.

 

Although the Connecticut state legislature and all the executive agencies involved share a strong commitment to focus on prevention, the transition from CJTS to a more community-based system is at risk of failing to support these youths. A mix of unclear budgetary priorities, insufficient funding, and obstacles in collaboration might derail the state´s best efforts.

CJTS was extremely costly to operate, so with its closure the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will save a substantial amount of money in the long run. The state planned to shift this funding to cover the costs of establishing the kind of community-based services and facilities that are both cheaper to run and are more effective.

A quirk in the budget process, however, puts this at risk. With the closure of CJTS, policymakers shifted most of the funding that DCF used to operate the facility, in addition to some services for justice-involved youth, to the Court Support Services Division (CSSD), an agency within the Judicial Branch. The problem is that a significant amount of the savings have either gone elsewhere or have been cut outright, leaving prevention services badly underfunded. 

Both state agencies can and have run excellent juvenile justice programs in the past, making great strides towards reducing juvenile incarceration and responding to the needs of youth offenders with excellent programs that have become national models. Because of the budget cuts, however, many of these programs and initiatives that have made Connecticut a national leader in Juvenile Justice now lack adequate budgetary resources to operate.
Among these services are the Juvenile Review Boards, local community-based diversion initiatives that many towns and cities rely on for restorative juvenile justice work. These services also include evidence-based therapies that support children and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral challenges before these children become involved with the courts through arrest.

At its height, CJTS and the Pueblo Unit for Girls cost DCF over $30 million a year to run, but the latest budget proposals shift $17 million to CSSD to establish both new secure facilities for youth with challenging needs and the services to help meet these needs, all of which is needed. This shift leaves DCF without the approximately $7 million they need to fund prevention efforts for at-risk youth. It is crucial that the General Assembly helps ensure that the closure of CJTS, an undisputed achievement, does not become a failure caused by unexpectedly overburdening the new justice system by leaving prevention behind.

Connecticut’s past successes in juvenile justice reform allow for the rightsizing of our justice because our policies to date have been focused on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline and racial and ethnic disparities in arrests while opening avenues to restorative justice and opportunity. But rightsizing is just that—reducing what is no longer necessary and optimizing investments. By adequately funding both prevention and services for youth with the most complex needs, Connecticut can ensure a brighter future for today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.

 

Issue Area:
Juvenile Justice

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