Blazing a Trail in Youth Justice

by | May 2, 2023

The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) has been debated in Connecticut and elsewhere, as youth justice advocates continue to discuss raising the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction and providing more community-based diversion treatment centers that emphasize a restorative model.

Community Partners in Action (CPA) voiced perspective on youth justice at a recent conference organized by the Tow Youth Justice Institute. Frances French who manages CPA’s Hamden REGIONS* Residential Treatment Program for male youth and Keisha Henry who oversees youth program operations spoke on a panel along with Dr. Lisa Simone, who leads educational and vocational programming in Hamden that emphasize empowering young people.

Community based diversion programs like REGIONS Hamden provide youth direct access to a range of therapeutic services with the goal of building long-term positive connections between teens and their communities. Yale Behavioral Health provides clinical services with a focus on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), alongside individualized treatments.

Many of the youth have had four or five high school experiences before arriving at the program CPA runs in Hamden and Hartford, which provides on-site education in small classroom settings and community-based alternative education for Hamden youth who are ready to branch outside of the facility.

Keisha Henry underscored the benefit of individualized treatment plans. Frances French spoke of the importance of communicating with families throughout a teens 6-8 month stay at the Hamden REGIONS program so they can understand and support them as their confidence grows. Siblings and parents are invited into family sessions by CPA’s family support specialist.

 “Our reintegration mentors stay with our kids for one year after discharge, so they can continue to be successful when they are back in the community,” said French. “One youth recently asked how they could help their sibling, so they don’t make the same mistakes.”

Thea Montanez, chief operating officer for the City of Hartford joined the Innovations in Community Programming Panel where she shared an adult-to-youth peer mentoring concept where formerly incarcerated adults are paired with youth identified at risk in the community.

Louis Reed, a formerly incarcerated person who advocates for criminal justice reform emceed the conference, interjecting with his own experience and the importance of helping youth to envision a future beyond their immediate circumstances.

While Connecticut has fewer young people entering the juvenile justice system, the youth who remain have complex issues. According to 2022 data provided by the Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division (JBCSSD), quarterly referral volume especially concerning misdemeanors remains lower than in pre-pandemic periods.

*REGIONS stands for Re-entry, Goal-Oriented, Individualized, Opportunity to Nurture Success. Its goal is to reduce recidivism risk, increase well-being, and provide for a successful return to the community through the development of positive relationships through prosocial behaviors.