Better outcomes in CT juvenile justice — and potentially savings, too

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The recently concluded legislative session on the state budget makes clear the growing imperative to fundamentally alter the way state government does business. Political leaders are coming to the realization that Connecticut residents will not support higher tax increases until they are convinced current spending has been prioritized according to need and the efficiency of programs has been maximized.

With this new fiscal reality as background, the Children’s League of Connecticut has offered a number of policy based solutions meant to improve the quality of life for youth and families served by the Connecticut juvenile justice system. In many cases these concepts will result in lower costs to taxpayers and in all cases we believe our suggestions will result in better outcomes for youth and their families — which should be everyone’s goal.

Years of experience and data shows most adolescents and young adults who come into contact with the juvenile justice system benefit the most from treatment and care located in a community setting. While there is always a need for secure facilities for a very small number of youth, most are better served outside the environment of a locked facility. We think this is where the line should be drawn between which services are provided by state government and which are delivered by community based treatment providers.

All locked facilities should be managed by state government with the goal of transitioning clients to community facilities as quickly as possible. All non-locked treatment should be managed by providers operating in a community setting. This approach will reduce costs and improve treatment results.

Programs should be regionalized across the state. This approach allows communities to take advantage of existing assets and quickly determine and address short-comings. Providing service on a smaller, regional scale, improves the ability of treatment managers to respond to individual client needs. From an organizational perspective, programs should be regionalized through Transitional Care Centers in each of the six regions recognized by the Department of Children and Families. These centers can be created using existing facilities and would not require significant new construction spending.

The purpose of the transitional care approach is to provide a continuum of care that is integrated, flexible, and holistic. Programs should emphasize education, vocational opportunities, job placement, behavioral health, housing, safety and family support.

The major cost savings using this model would result from the reduction in the number of secure beds needed across the entire system. For the new holistic approach to work however, much of the savings from the reduction in high-cost secure facilities should be re-invested back into the community based treatment system. Over the long term, this will result in reduced costs as outcomes improve and youth re-enter the community.

It has long been understood that treatment results improve when youth and families get the help they need close to their own community. It has long been a goal of DCF and the juvenile justice system to move in this direction. The state’s current budget situation now makes the shift a fiscal necessity. The sooner we make the change, the better the care and the results for everyone served directly and indirectly by the juvenile justice system.

Dan Rezende is president of the Children’s League of Connecticut.

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