Norwich Bulletin - Juvenile Review Board: Troubled Children Get Second Chance


Juvenile Review Board; Troubled Children Get Second Chance

Copyright 2015 Norwich Bulletin, Distributed by Newsbank, Inc. All Rights Reserved

February 8, 2015 Sunday

Ryan Blessing (860) 4254205

Alternative to court helps turn lives around

Ryan Aubin, of Griswold, said he’s a big believer in taking a small-town approach to keeping children out of trouble. And it’s working in his town, he said.

“It’s the old-fashioned approach of, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” Aubin, the town’s Youth and Family Services director, said. “It has huge benefits to communities.”

Aubin is talking about the town’s juvenile review board, which just got off the ground last summer.

The board is designed to keep young first-time nonviolent offenders out of the state’s juvenile court system. Cases are typically referred from police, schools or the juvenile court.

“So far we’re up to five kids who have successfully completed the diversion program,” Aubin said. “We’re hoping to go from about one case per month to three to five.”

Griswold and other local communities are able to bolster their juvenile review board caseloads, thanks to more grant funding this year from the state Judicial Branch and the Department of Children and Families.

Montville revived its juvenile review board three years ago, and has been referred 93 cases to date, Youth Services Director Barbara Lockhart said. Lockhart also is president of the Connecticut Youth Services Association, a statewide network of youth service bureaus. Out of that total, only three cases have been sent to juvenile court.

Montville’s review board started around 1995, but subsequently became defunct, Lockhart said.

“There was some resistance about the referral process,” she said. “Police cooperation is essential for success. I’m very fortunate. I have a very good relationship with the police in Montville, specifically the resident state troopers in Montville the last few years.”

Montville resurrected its board three years ago. Before the juvenile review board, all cases would have gone to juvenile court.

The board generally addresses cases of children and teens up to 17 years old, Lockhart said. Several years ago, the state raised the age of juvenile offenders to 17, bringing 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system.

Typical offenses handled by the board include possession of small amounts of marijuana, fights between youths, vandalism, shoplifting and delinquency.

“It’s really up to the police,” Lockhart said. “Generally if a child has committed a crime that’s heinous in nature, it’s likely that child has been arrested before, and the police will know that and say it’s not a good case for JRB. And they’ll bring it to me anyway and together we decide if it’s more appropriate for the youth to go to juvenile court.”

Members of juvenile review boards and local youth services departments say the boards are better suited to meet the needs of a child. Local agencies, they say, can provide one-on-one case management and monitoring, referrals to treatment services and opportunities for community service, for example.

“Both police and town administrative cooperation really helps with the success of these diversion programs,” Lockhart said.

In a typical program such as in Montville, all juvenile arrests are administered by one police officer, called the gatekeeper. “He or she will look at all the juvenile arrest cases and determine if each is appropriate for juvenile review board,” Lockhart said.


Usually, the boards take first-time offenders, though there are exceptions, Lockhart said. “If a child gets arrested for shoplifting at age 11 but didn’t have the opportunity to come to the board, and then was referred at 15 for a school altercation, we’re not going to refuse that kid,” she said.

The board is comprised of representatives from the Department of Children and Families, schools, police, juvenile court officials, clergy and community members.

Lockhart meets with the child and his or her parents to discuss the particular case. If the case is deemed suitable for the review board, the parent and child can choose to sign a contract. In exchange for a lesser punishment, the offender gives up some rights he or she would get in juvenile court. For example, an attorney is not present at a juvenile review board hearing.

“Basically, we try to get to the bottom of why they did what they did in the first place,” Lockhart said.

Diversion contracts for children can vary, from performing community service or other work to making restitution for property damage or writing an essay or apology letter.

Often, children receive counseling services. “There’s a very strong connection between mental health and juvenile behavior,” Lockhart said.

Other stipulations can include that the child must not be sent to the principal’s office or that he or she must improve a grade.

Cases typically are open for 30 to 60 days. But new provisions that are part of the DCF grant mean that cases must stay open for six months.

That’s an improvement for case workers such as Lockhart, because it gives them a longer sampling window, and a better idea of how effective the boards are.

Because offenders are younger than 18, the cases are shielded from public view according to state privacy mandates. But those who take part in the diversion programs are asked to leave feedback as part of a survey all participants complete.

Anonymous responses from Montville children indicated they found value in the program.

“Everyone here seemed like they really cared about me, and did not see me as a bad kid,” one offender said.

“Because of the place I did my community service for the (board), another opportunity became available for me to become more involved there,” another said.

The review board system keeps a child who commits a minor first-time offense out of the juvenile court system and keeps their record clean. But if a child doesn’t comply with the assigned punishment within 30 days, the case can be returned to the referral source, such as juvenile court or the police.

The Northern Juvenile Review Board, which is part of the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, serves Thompson, Putnam, Woodstock, Pomfret, Eastford and Union.

The board has seen 45 referrals since it began in 2012. Twenty-one of those have been successfully discharged, board coordinator Jennifer Plaza said.

“We’re just trying to get these kids on a different path and to make better choices,” Plaza said.

Plaza said the Northern Board received almost $13,000 from the DCF grant, plus $4,000 from the Putnam Bank Foundation.

The funds will be used to support youth employment programs, counseling and treatment and transportation, among other things, she said.

Griswold received $6,000, according to Aubin, and eventually plans to use more grant funds to hire a case manager.

Juvenile review boards also exist in Norwich and Colchester, which received $3,000 in DCF funds.

“Our top problems here are with truancy and defiance of school rules,” said Valerie Geato, Youth and Social Services director in Colchester, where 27 youths have been referred to the juvenile review board since its inception in 2012.

In Norwich, Kelly Middle School’s new resource officer, Josip Peperni, said that after a child completes a juvenile review board sanction, engagement is key.

“I talk with the student and tell them that with me, the slate is clean. Once the arrest happens, that’s for that specific incident,” he said. Peperni stresses to the child the importance of learning from the bad decision he or she made.

“How can we go from this point forward so that we don’t repeat it,” he said. “My big thing is to have an avenue where they can come and talk to me about whatever problem they might be going through. They’re 12, 13 years old. They’re going to get in trouble, but we try to minimize that. They’re old enough to start thinking about consequences of their actions before they get into trouble.”

Peperni and the youth services directors say that keeping children out of the court system gives them a much better chance of successfully graduating and going on to college or other forms of higher education.

“The juvenile court is set up for a specific purpose. It’s there, but we try to minimize using it. It’s not the best alternative by any means for any child.” he said.


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