A second chance for youth

Beacon Falls, Prospect looking to form juvenile review board

Say a child gets caught committing a petty crime, shoplifting for instance, an appearance in juvenile court is likely in his or her future — unless of course that child’s community has a juvenile review board.

Instead of appearing before a judge or prosecutor a child who has committed a lesser crime, and typically is a first-time offender, can be referred to a juvenile review board, which will handle his or her case.

The boards are a diversionary program designed to keep children out of the juvenile court system. They are growing in number and popularity across the state. Beacon Falls and Prospect may join the list of municipalities with a juvenile review board.

Francis Carino, supervisory assistant state’s attorney for juvenile matters, has been a prosecutor in juvenile court for 35 years. He also has a combined 26 years as a member of a juvenile review board in Rocky Hill and one that covers Andover, Columbia, Hebron and Marlborough.

Carino said the same cases he sees in court — larceny, vandalism and fighting — could go before a juvenile review board. “Typical teenage crimes and affronts,” he said.

The boards aren’t just for criminal acts, he added. A child who is having issues at school, at home or in the community and heading down a path toward the court system can also be referred to a board for assistance.

If they are set up and run properly, Carino said, the boards can have a great impact on children and communities.

Carino met last month with local officials, including representatives from the Beacon Falls and Prospect police departments and Region 16 school district, to introduce the towns to the concept.

In an interview last week, Carino explained juvenile review boards aren’t governed by state statute. They can be developed as a community sees fits, he said.

In most cases, children are referred to the boards by police or their school system. The boards review each case and dole out punishments ranging from community service to writing a report or an apology letter. The boards follow the child’s case and if said child doesn’t complete the discipline, the case is sent to court.

A child and their family must volunteer to be referred to a board and the child must also admit to his or her indiscretion.

The boards are comprised of volunteers from all walks of life in the community. The only paid member of a board, Carino explained, is a case manager.

Punishments aren’t necessarily the end result in every case, Carino said. Juvenile review boards can also issue counseling for a child. He said the boards aren’t just about keeping children out of court, but addressing the issues at the root of the problem as well.

Barbara Lockhart, president of the Connecticut Youth Services Association and director of the Montville Youth Service Bureau, said there’s real value to having a juvenile review board.

Aside from keeping children out of the court system, she said, the boards also let the children know there are people in the community who care for them.

“It’s like a wrap-around service instead of a punitive process,” Lockhart said.

In the two years that Montville has had a juvenile review board it has seen 47 cases and only one had to be sent back to the court system, she said.

The meeting last month was the first and it will take same time to put all the pieces together to start a board for Beacon Falls and Prospect. While it is very early in the development stage, the idea is gaining support among local officials.

Prospect Resident State Trooper Matthew Comeau said he doesn’t see a huge need for such a board in Prospect, since there aren’t a lot of juvenile arrests made in town. However, he still believes the board is worthwhile to pursue.

“Anything to keep the kids out of the court system is a good thing,” he said.

Comeau said there could be more of a use for the board in Beacon Falls since Woodland Regional High School is located in the town. But, he added, he couldn’t speak for Beacon Falls.

Beacon Falls Resident State Trooper Andrew Borelli could not be reached for comment.

The idea has also received support from school officials.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the board seems like a very good initiative to help keep children out of the judicial system and try to help them get back on the right track.

When the topic came up at a Board of Education meeting earlier this month Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren described the board as a second chance for children that allows them to avoid a criminal record.

“It gives them a second chance and really tries to help that young person who had that youthful indiscretion,” Ogren said.

If established, the board would serve Prospect and Beacon Falls but would not be overseen by the school district.

If the board moves forward, the towns would not have to reinvent the wheel.

Waterbury Youth Services, which oversees Prospect Youth Services, had a juvenile review board in the past and restored it three years ago, Waterbury Youth Services Executive Director Kelly Cronin.

Cronin was among the group present for the initial meeting last month. She said Waterbury Youth Services can supply the towns will all the forms and paperwork needed for the board.

Cronin said the board has been very successful in Waterbury and 98 percent of youth who go through the program do not re-offend.

In the case of a juvenile being arrested, Cronin said, two things can happen when they go to court: The case gets thrown out and the child faces no consequences, or the child has a criminal record that could come back to haunt him or her in the future. A juvenile review board provides an alternative option.

“It’s a great diversionary program for kids,” she said.

The concept of juvenile review boards isn’t exactly new, with the first one starting more than 40 years ago. However, more and more towns are forming one.

In December 2011, the Connecticut Youth Services Association conducted a survey to inventory the status of youth service bureaus that fund, administer or support juvenile review boards in their respective communities. According to the report on the survey, 81 agencies that are members of the association responded representing 129 municipalities.

“It gives them a second chance and really tries to help that young person who had that youthful indiscretion.” -Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren

Of those that responded 57 bureaus reported having a working juvenile review board and research showed four other towns publicized juvenile review board programs.

The report also stated that 16 youth service bureaus serving an additional 33 municipalities reported at the time plans to establish new boards.

Among the municipalities with a juvenile review board is Naugatuck, which has had one for the past several years.  

“I think it’s a great idea. I love the program,” said Christina Koch Gamble, acting director of Naugatuck Youth and Family Services.

Naugatuck’s board has a clear set of criteria in order to be eligible for the program, explained Det. Sgt. Randy Ireland, head of the Naugatuck Police Department’s juvenile division.

A juvenile can not have committed a felony, Class A misdemeanor or a sex-related crime, Ireland said. The child can’t have been referred to the court system or board before and must admit responsibility. The child and their family must also agree to the referral.

For the most part, Ireland said, the police department makes the referrals but the school board can as well. Children can also be referred for Family With Service Issue Needs such as truancy, running away from home, if a child is beyond the control of his or her parents or for indecent and immoral activity.

“We really look at what the child might need outside of any repercussions.” -Naugatuck Youth and Family Services Acting Director Christina Koch Gamble

Gamble, who has been serving as the case manager for the board for the past year or so, said the board deals on average with three to four cases a month including some that may be open cases.

If a child is referred to the board, Gamble explained, the first rule is the family must contact her within 48 hours. She’ll then review the police report and meet with the family to make an assessment. The child will then go before the board.

The board looks at more than just any criminal activity. Gamble said a child’s school records will also be reviewed. The board will also try to delve into any issues that may be going on at the child’s home, she said, to get a full picture of the child.

“We really look at what the child might need outside of any repercussions,” Gamble said.

Ireland said the number of referrals has been increasing recently, but not because children are getting in more trouble. He said the program is becoming more accepted and utilized by the police department. He said the board has had a successful track record. Only recently have some children failed to meet the board’s guidelines due to being arrested again while in the program, he said.

From a police point of view, Ireland said, the program has been very useful. The whole point, he said, is to give the community a chance to right a wrong behavior and help a child avoid the court system.

Gamble added, “It really looks at the whole child and our hope is that they don’t re-offend.”

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