Foundation investments in advocacy can effect groundbreaking changes in laws and public policies that promote quality services and safe communities.
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit agencies, advocates, philanthropists, families and public officials, whose mission is to reduce the number of children and youth entering the state’s juvenile and criminal justice systems and to advocate a safe, effective and fair juvenile justice system for those involved.
The landmark Raise the Age legislative reform driven by the Alliance was fully implemented on July 1, 2012, when all youth up to age 18 who came in contact with the law, except for those with the most serious charges, came under juvenile court jurisdiction. Before Raise the Age, all court-involved 16- and 17-year-old youth were prosecuted as adults – a practice that research shows leads to recidivism and a high risk of suicide and sexual assault in adult facilities. Since phase one of the law took effect on January 1, 2010, 12,793 youths have been provided greater safety and age-appropriate services offered by the juvenile system.
The Alliance promotes a broad spectrum of policies that divert youth from the justice system. When schools use arrests as a tool of school discipline, many children are sent into the system unnecessarily, particularly students of color and those with special education needs. In 2011/2, the Alliance co-sponsored 22 forums across the state that included screenings of Connecticut Public Television’s documentary Education vs. Incarceration, to raise awareness about this issue. The documentary highlights the need for better mental health services in schools, which the Alliance also champions through its partnership with the Keep the Promise Coalition, a statewide committee of advocates and health professionals. The Alliance worked with two judges who are national leaders in diversion to train three communities – Manchester, Willimantic and Stamford – in student arrest reduction. Results to date have been dramatic. At Manchester High School, for example, student arrests fell 78 percent in one year. To help influence local and statewide policy-making, the Alliance will publish a white paper in 2013 outlining lessons learned about school discipline in these communities. The Alliance also successfully advocated reforms that resulted in two major wins:
- A law restricting out-of-school suspensions, keeping thousands of youth in school and learning (2010/11 data shows that 42,998 fewer Connecticut students were suspended out of school compared with 2006/7, a drop of 50%), and
- A law that requires a court order before a youth charged with any offense can be placed in a detention facility.
Reforms promoted by the Alliance have improved both public safety and outcomes for justice-involved youth.