Just.Start is an informational campaign to promote fairness in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system for all young people, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Nationally, young people of color are more likely to come in contact with the juvenile justice system and are treated more harshly there. The same is true in Connecticut. Federal law requires states to document unequal treatment and create plans to stop it. This issue is known as disproportionate minority contact or DMC. The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC), a governor-appointed panel, has approved specific plans to address DMC.
Connecticut conducted a comprehensive study of DMC in the state for three different time periods and found that at some points in the system, youth of all races have similar experiences. At other points, Black and Hispanic youth fare worse than their White peers, even when the nature of their cases and their previous experience with the court are similar. Using this information, decision points where disparity occurs can be targeted and something can be done. Young people should always be held accountable for their behavior, but in a way that is fair and equal.
One of the prime objectives of Just.Start is to help people understand that DMC is real. Here are some key facts to consider:
Youth of all races engage in similar behaviors at similar rates.
This is an urban problem and a suburban problem.
Poverty does not account for the disparity in how youth of different races are treated.
Even people who are not being intentionally unfair can contribute to this problem.
What Connecticut is doing
People throughout the state’s juvenile justice system are working to reduce DMC. The specific actions and recommendations of the JJAC include:
Educating the public, policy makers and stakeholders about this issue. Just.Start will broadly raise awareness using a variety of media, including an hour-long PowerPoint that staff can present to interested groups.
Facilitating partnerships between schools and police to reduce in-school arrests. A School/Police Task Group will develop a model policy.
Training police in youth development. The JJAC designed a curriculum for patrol officers, Effective Police Interactions with Youth. Individuals and police departments can learn more here.
Helping facilities and programs identify DMC. A confidential management tool to measure DMC in facilities and programs can be downloaded here.
Changing the law to promote fairness. Thanks to new legislation, no juvenile can go to detention in Connecticut without a judge’s order. JJAC research showed that when a court order was required to detain a youth, DMC disappeared at that decision point.
Using data to drive system improvement. The JJAC is working to improve data collection and reporting. State agencies will report annually, and the JJAC will continue to do a system-wide appraisal every seven years.
What citizens and communities can do
Send your ideas and suggestions to the JJAC. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or JJAC c/o Office of Policy and Management, 450 Capitol Avenue, MS#52CJP, Hartford, CT 06106-1379.
Talk with policy makers about DMC.
Start your own group.
Invite Just.Start to your community.