Juvenile Justice & Youth Development

Juvenile Justice System

The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of the juvenile justice system in Connecticut including goals, services, and statistics.  Also provided is information on the Office of Policy and Management's monitoring system for compliance with federal mandates on holding juveniles and information on minority overrepresentation in Connecticut's juvenile justice system.

TOP of pageJuvenile Justice System Overview

Connecticut's juvenile justice system is a state level system of juvenile courts, detention centers, private residential facilities and juvenile correctional facilities. Post-adjudication services are provided by the Court Support Services Division of the Connecticut Judicial Branch and by the Department of Children and Families.

TOP of pageAge of Jurisdiction

In Connecticut, the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters has exclusive original jurisdiction over juveniles accused of delinquent acts.  Delinquents are persons who, prior to their eighteenth birthdays, have violated or attempted to violate any federal or state law, order of the Superior Court, or any local or municipal ordinance.

Although the same criminal statutes apply to both adults and juveniles, in most cases juveniles are subject to different procedures and sanctions than adults.  The exception to the above involves the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal court (see Transfer to Adult Court).

TOP of pageSystem Philosophy and Goals

The juvenile justice system in Connecticut is grounded in the concepts of restorative justice, emphasizing protection of the community, offender accountability, and rehabilitation.  The goals of the system include:

(1) Hold juveniles accountable for their unlawful behavior;

(2) Provide secure and therapeutic confinement to those juveniles who present a danger to the community;

(3) Adequately protect the community and juveniles;

(4) Provide programs and services that are community-based and are provided in close proximity to the juvenile’s community;

(5) Retain and support juveniles within their homes whenever possible and appropriate;

(6) Base probation treatment planning upon individual case management plans;

(7) Include the juvenile’s family in the case management plan;

(8) Provide supervision and service coordination where appropriate and implement and monitor the case management plan in order to discourage reoffending;

(9) Provide follow-up and nonresidential postrelease services to juveniles who are returned to their families or communities;

(10) Promote the development and implementation of community-based programs including, but not limited to, mental health services, designed to prevent unlawful behavior and to effectively minimize the depth and duration of the juvenile’s involvement in the juvenile justice system; and

(11) Create and maintain programs for juvenile offenders that are gender specific in that they comprehensively address the unique needs of a targeted gender group.

TOP of pageLaw Enforcement

In most instances, the police represent the first point of contact for juveniles entering the juvenile justice system and have wide discretion in handling delinquency cases.  Police may: 

  1. issue a warning and release the juvenile,

  2. confer with parents and release the juvenile,

  3. make a referral to a community organization,

  4. refer the juvenile to formal diversion services such as Juvenile Review Boards or youth service agencies in those communities where those options are available, or

  5. make an arrest.

When an arrest is made, the police issue a Juvenile Summons and prepare a Police Arrest Report that describes the incident, lists the charges, specifies a court appearance date, and includes a promise to appear signed by the parents.  If the police believe that the welfare of the child or the safety of the community requires that the juvenile be confined prior to the initial court hearing, they may apply for an order to detain from a judge of the Superior Court.

TOP of pageDetention

Effective January 1, 2017, no child may be placed in detention unless a judge of the Superior Court determines, based on the available facts, that (A) there is probable cause to believe that the child has committed the acts alleged, (B) there is no less restrictive alternative available, and (C) there is (i) probable cause to believe that the child will pose a risk to public safety if released to the community prior to the court hearing or disposition, (ii) a need to hold the child in order to ensure the child's appearance before the court, as demonstrated by the child's previous failure to respond to the court process, or (iii) a need to hold the child for another jurisdiction.  No child shall be held in any detention center unless an order to detain is issued by a judge of the Superior Court (see charts on detention beginning here).

TOP of pageCourt Processing

The Juvenile Probation Unit Supervisor at the Juvenile Matters Court location where the juvenile will appear receives the Police Arrest Report and determines whether the case should be scheduled for a court hearing (judicial processing) or handled informally (non-judicial processing).  The decision to process a case non-judicially is made only after the juvenile has admitted responsibility for the alleged delinquent acts and is based on consideration of the following:  seriousness of the offense, past court history, adjustment at home and school, and attitudes of the juvenile and parents.

Non-judicial cases normally include only those matters involving minor offenses and are dealt with by a juvenile probation officer rather than a judge.  The probation officer may:  (1) dismiss the case; (2) with the written agreement of the juvenile and parents, place the juvenile under non-judicial supervision for a period of up to 180 days with conditions; or (3) recommend judicial handling.

If the juvenile fails to comply with the conditions of the supervision, the probation officer may refer the case to the juvenile prosecutor for prosecution on the original charges.

Judicial cases include:  (1) more serious offenses (e.g., felonies; sale or intent to sell drugs; and certain offenses involving cars or firearms); (2) cases involving juveniles who have prior delinquent convictions or who have an extensive prior history with the court (e.g., non-judicial dispositions, status offenses); (3) all cases where the juvenile denies the charges; and (4) cases where the probation officer believes that judicial intervention is warranted.

The juvenile prosecutor files a Petition/Information with the court in all judicial cases specifying the charges and identifying the offender and the parents or guardian.  A plea hearing before a judge is initially scheduled at which the rights of the parent and juvenile are explained, including the right to counsel and the availability of public defender services if eligible and the child is asked to plead to the charges.  This is normally followed by a pretrial conference between the prosecutor and counsel for the juvenile.

Pre-conviction suspended prosecution programs are also available for juveniles who are drug or alcohol dependent or who are involved in acts of school violence.  Successful completion of such programs results in a dismissal of the charges.

If the juvenile denies responsibility for the charges, a judicial hearing is scheduled.  This hearing has two phases:

  • the adjudicatory hearing where the court can, after trial:  (1) find the juvenile not delinquent, or (2) convict the juvenile as a delinquent; and

  • the dispositional hearing where the court determines whether the convicted offender will be:  (1) dismissed with a warning, (2) conditionally discharged, (3) placed on probation, (4) placed on probation with a suspended commitment to the Department of Children and Families, or (5) committed to the Department of Children and Families (e.g., placed in a residential treatment center in or outside of Connecticut or at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys).

The majority of convicted delinquents are placed on probation (see delinquency flow chart).  The probation supervision plan includes a combination of conditions and treatment depending on the unique circumstances of the juvenile.  Conditions can include:  random drug testing, restitution, community service, electronic monitoring, curfews, and monitored school attendance.

Treatment options include referral to individual or group counseling targeting an array of problem areas; day reporting programs that include educational, recreational, life skills, drug treatment and other services; specialized services for females, sex offenders and abused juveniles; mental health services; and short-term residential services.

If placement is deemed appropriate by the court, the statutes provide for commitments to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for a period of up to 18 months in non-SJO cases and up to a maximum of four years in Serious Juvenile Offense (SJO) cases.  SJO commitments may also include orders establishing a minimum period of twelve months during which the juvenile shall be placed in a residential facility operated by or under contract with the DCF.  Commitments for both non-SJO and SJO convictions may be extended for an additional 18 months if requested by DCF, if, after a hearing, the court finds that such extension is in the best interests of the juvenile or the community.

TOP of pageDepartment of Children and Families

Convicted delinquents determined to be in need of out-of-home placement are committed to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state agency responsible for public or private residential placement of juvenile offenders as well as parole services (see charts on DCF clients beginning here).   

A parole officer is assigned to and begins working with the juvenile and the juvenile's family once they are committed, even while the juvenile is in placement.  While the court, after consideration of a report from probation, makes the initial determination concerning commitment to DCF for a juvenile, decisions regarding placements and release from placement are ultimately the responsibility of DCF.

Given the potential length of commitment, it is not uncommon that DCF has juveniles in their custody and control beyond age eighteen.

TOP of pageTransfer to Adult Court

Juveniles age 15 or older charged with a Class A or B felony are automatically transferred to the adult criminal court.  Additionally, juveniles age 15 or older charged with a Class C or D felony or with an unclassified felony may be transferred to the adult criminal court upon a motion by the juvenile prosecutor and order of a Juvenile Matters Judge (discretionary transfers).  Juveniles charged with certain Class A sexual assault offenses, a Class B felony and the “discretionary transfers” can be returned to the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters upon order of a judge in the adult court.

Juveniles confined in a detention center and subsequently transferred to the adult court may be placed in the custody of the Department of Correction and held in an adult correctional facility, usually Manson Youth Institution for males and York Correctional Institution for females, both pretrial and following conviction.  Click here to link to a report on juveniles transferred to adult court in Connecticut for the six-year period of 1997 to 2002.

TOP of pageMonitoring for Compliance with Federal Mandates for Holding Juveniles

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended (JJDPA), assists states in efforts to prevent and control juvenile delinquency, provide proper and adequate treatment for troubled youth, and improve the juvenile justice system.  To achieve these goals, the JJDPA has established certain core protections (mandates) with which the states must demonstrate compliance in order to be eligible for federal funding under the JJDPA Formula Grants Program.  As part of this process, participating states are required to maintain a comprehensive statewide compliance monitoring system that inspects facilities, collects essential data and reports annually to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) on the extent of compliance with the following three mandates:


Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO)

The JJDPA provides for status offenders, civil-type offenders, and nonoffenders not to be detained or confined in secure detention or correctional facilities.

Separation of Juveniles from Adult Offenders in Secure Facilities (Separation)

The JJDPA provides for juvenile offenders, status offenders and nonoffenders not to be detained or confined in any institution in which they have contact with adult inmates.

Removal of Juveniles from Adult Jails and Lockups (Jail Removal)

The JJDPA provides for all juveniles not to be detained or confined in any jail or lockup for adults.

The Office of Policy and Management is the state agency responsible for maintaining the compliance monitoring system in Connecticut.  All facilities in the state (both public and private) that have the potential to hold juveniles pursuant to public authority fall within the purview of the monitoring universe. This includes local and state police lockups, juvenile detention and correctional facilities, court facilities, adult jails and prisons, mental health hospitals and institutions, and all other public and private juvenile placement and residential facilities.  Annually, data is collected from all such facilities.  A minimum of 10% of the facilities must be on-site inspected each year for verification and 100% of all the facilities must have an on-site inspection once every 3 years.

TOP of pageDisproportionate Minority Contact (DMC)

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) is a major issue facing juvenile justice practitioners and policymakers across the country.  For more information about Connecticut's efforts to address DMC, visit the Disproportionate Minority Contact page.