Topic:
RUNAWAY CHILDREN; STATE BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS; JUVENILE DELINQUENCY; TRUANCY; JUVENILE COURTS;
Location:
COURTS - JUVENILE; JUVENILES - DELINQUENCY;

OLR Research Report


December 27, 2004

 

2004-R-0941

YOUTH IN CRISIS LAW AND JUVENILE REVIEW BOARDS

By: Saul Spigel, Chief Analyst

You asked for information on (1) the youth in crisis law and court procedures related to it and (2) juvenile review boards.

SUMMARY

Youth in Crisis (YIC)

The youth in crisis law provides a way for families to access Juvenile Court services when a 16- or 17-year old is beyond parental control, runs away from home, or is habitually truant. Normally, Juvenile Court jurisdiction ends when a youth turns age 16.

Parents, school or local officials, or police can refer a youth to the court. Under Judicial Department procedures, most cases are handled by a juvenile probation officer who determines if the YIC law applies, whether the parents want to go ahead with the process, and if the youth accepts responsibility for his conduct. If all these conditions are met, the officer and family then decide what course of action to take: referring the youth to a youth service bureau; requiring him to participate in an educational program, community service, work, or counseling; directing the DMV commissioner to suspend his driver's license; or discussing the possibility of emancipation.

A YIC who violates a court order is not delinquent and cannot be incarcerated in a detention or correctional facility. Critics complain that this prohibition severely limits the law's effectiveness. Those who favor the prohibition assert that it prevents youths ending up in confinement for running away from home or being truant, which would not occur if they were adults.

The YIC law requires police officers to look for 16- and 17-year old runaways and, if they find them, to tell their parents where they are, as long as this does not endanger the youth. And it requires them to either (1) bring the youth home or to another adult; (2) hold him for up to 12 hours; (3) refer him to a probate court judge, a youth service bureau, or other youth-serving agency; or, (4) if all else fails, refer him to Juvenile Court.

Juvenile Review Boards (JRBs)

Juvenile review boards are intended to divert from Juvenile Court children who have committed minor delinquent acts or whose behavior at home or school indicates they are at risk of delinquency. JRBs operate in about 30, mostly small- and medium-sized, towns. Most are run by a youth service bureau or police department. They are funded by the towns, although some have received federal money, typically as pilot project funding.

The JRB process is strictly voluntary and relatively informal. Boards typically consist of people who deal professionally with children such as social workers, teachers, counselors, and police. Board staff determines a child's eligibility, explains its procedures and goals, investigates the child's behavior and background, and prepares the case for the board. Typically, the board meets with the parents and child to assesses the options available to help the child. These can include warnings and reprimand, apologizing or making restitution to the injured party, attending counseling, and performing community service. The board puts its recommendations in a contract that the child and parents must sign. Staff monitors the child to make sure he follows the contract. If he does not, the matter is returned to the board, which can modify or extend the contract or refer the child to Juvenile Court.

Staffs from both the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Judicial Department participate in local JRBs.

YOUTH IN CRISIS

History

Before 2000, Connecticut law created a "gray area" in which parents of 16- and 17-year olds were legally responsible for supporting and controlling their children and financially responsible for their actions but could not obtain public support to help control them. The “gray area” resulted from three factors.

1. The Juvenile Court's Families with Service Needs program to help parents whose children were beyond their control or who ran away was limited by law to children under age 16.

2. Connecticut police did not have a statutory duty to look for runaways over age 15 or return them to their parents.

3. Children could drop out of school when they turned 16 without their parents' permission or even knowledge.

PA 00-177 (CGS 46b-150f & g) created a “youth in crisis” program, modeled on the Families With Service Needs program, as a way for parents to ask the Juvenile Court to intervene when they were having problems controlling their 16- and 17-year olds. PA 00-157 changed the school leaving age to 18.

Juvenile Court Procedure

The following section describes the formal process for handling YIC complaints as outlined in the Connecticut Practice Book and Judicial Department policy. But, Julia O'Leary, deputy director of juvenile probation services, reports that practices vary among courts. Some Juvenile Court judges, frustrated by their lack of enforcement power in YIC cases, are reluctant to accept them for formal judicial proceedings, which means they never go beyond informal handling by a juvenile probation officer (JPO).

Jurisdiction Determination. When a child is referred to the court as a potential YIC case, the referral goes to an intake supervisor to determine if the court has jurisdiction (i.e., the youth is 16- or 17-years old, lives in Connecticut, and is referred by an authorized party). If he determines the court does not have jurisdiction, he sends an explanatory letter to the person who made the referral.

If the court has jurisdiction, the matter is referred to a JPO. The JPO sends a copy of the referral to a prosecutor to see if the matter is legally sufficient for the court to consider as a YIC case (that is, the circumstances meet the YIC conduct definition). If the prosecutor determines the matter is not legally sufficient, the case is dismissed.

Hearings and Nonjudicial Handling. Most cases are handled solely by JPOs rather than judges, that is nonjudicially rather than judicially. If the matter is covered by the statute, the JPO files a YIC petition, which is a formal court document that moves the matter to a plea hearing. The youth and his parents may each hire attorneys to represent them at this hearing or ask the court to appoint attorneys for them. The court will pay for the attorneys if they cannot.

At the hearing, the JPO discusses the allegations with the parents and youth, determines whether the parents want to go ahead with the process and whether the youth accepts responsibility for his conduct (which he must do in writing), and, if so, decides with them what course of action to take. If the parents do not wish to proceed, the case is dismissed. In some courts, cases are dismissed if a youth refuses to cooperate in the process, O'Leary reports.

After deciding on the course of action, the JPO enters interim orders, which can be for any sanction permitted in the YIC law: referring the youth to a youth service bureau; requiring him to participate in an educational program, community service, work, or counseling; directing the DMV commissioner to suspend his driver's license; or discussing the possibility of emancipation. The JPO can also place the youth under nonjudicial supervision for up to 180 days. Supervision typically entails the JPO calling the school, counselor, or employer, as appropriate, or visiting the youth's home or school to make sure the youth is following the orders.

Judicial Handling. If the youth denies responsibility for his actions, the matter can be referred to a judge. Matters that involve more serious actions, like car theft, firearm possession, or drug sales, or that involve a youth already under JPO supervision or with a history of previous delinquency go directly to a judge. And, if a YIC under nonjudicial supervision violates an order, he can be referred for judicial handling.

Judicial handling is conducted through a formal legal process. The first stage is an adjudicatory hearing, which is essentially a trial in which the court determines if the youth has done what has been alleged. If it finds he has not, the case is dismissed. If it finds he has, the court then holds a dispositional hearing at which it can make any of the orders available under the YIC law. In this case, the youth is placed under judicial supervision, which is done by a JPO in the same way as the nonjudicial supervision described above. If the youth fails to follow the court order, he can be brought back to court where the more stringent YIC sanctions (like suspending a driver's license) can be applied.

Caseload

Juvenile courts received 1,138 YIC referrals in 2003 (the latest year for which full data is available; incomplete 2004 data indicate 1,089 referrals since January 2004). Nearly 70% of the referrals were withdrawn (399) or dismissed (391) before they went to a JPO. In some of the dismissed cases, youth were referred to other services. Seventy-six (76) cases were accepted for nonjudicial (13) or judicial (63) handling. And 63 cases continued from 2002 were closed in 2003 after the youth successfully completed the JPO's or court's orders.

JUVENILE REVIEW BOARDS

Organization

Juvenile review boards are town-operated mechanisms to divert from Juvenile Court children with no previous court history who have committed minor delinquent acts or whose behavior at home or school (e.g., running away or defying school rules) indicates they are at risk of delinquency. We could find no definitive list of active JRBs, but from other records we estimate that approximately 30 currently operate, mainly in small and medium-sized towns. JRBs exist in: Avon, Bloomfield, Bristol, Canton, East Haddam, East Hartford, East Windsor, Enfield, Farmington, Hebron, Guilford, Granby, Montville, Newington, Newton, Old Saybrook, Plymouth, Portland, Shelton, Simsbury, Somers, South Windsor, Southington, Thompson, West Hartford, Windham, and Windsor.

Boards typically consist of people who deal professionally with children such as social workers, teachers, counselors, police, and clergy. They are generally run by local youth service bureaus or police departments. Boards are town-funded, although some towns have used federal juvenile justice funds to start their boards.

Review Board Process

Referrals to a JRB come mainly from police, school officials, and parents. The board process is strictly voluntary. Since a JRB is not a court, it does not have to provide all the due process rights that a court must, and a child who agrees to be referred to a board must be willing to waive those rights. A child who commits a delinquent act who does not wish to go before a JRB goes to Juvenile Court. And because the penalty for not following a JRB's recommendations is referral to Juvenile Court, only a child who comes under that court's jurisdiction, that is, under age 16 or eligible for a YIC referral, may be referred to a board.

The review board process is relatively informal. Usually, a board designates a member or staff person to determine a child's eligibility to come before the board, explain the board's procedures and goals, investigate the child's behavior and background, and prepare the case to present to the board. Most JRBs meet as a group to discuss the matter with the parent and child. At the meeting, the board tries to elicit the facts of the incident and the child's response to it. Sometimes, usually when a board must deal with numerous cases, it will meet first to discuss them and then send a representative to meet with each family.

The JRB can recommend diversion options for the child, or it can refer the matter to Juvenile Court if it believes he would not benefit from these options. The options can include reprimand and warning, counseling, community service, apology or restitution to the injured party, and supervision by the board. The board puts its specific recommendations and a timetable for achieving them in a contract that the child and parents must sign. It assigns someone to monitor the child and determine if he has followed the contract requirements. If he does not, the matter is returned to the board, which can modify or extend the contract or refer the child to Juvenile Court.

Relationship to DCF and Juvenile Court

DCF regional staff, typically probation officers or social workers, participate in local JRB meetings when they are invited to do so, according to Ann McIntyre-Lahner, a DCF juvenile justice expert. DCF does not convene or fund JRBs, she stated, and the central office does not assign anyone to interact with boards on a statewide basis.

Like DCF, Judicial Department probation officers serve as a resource for local JRBs. In some localities they serve on the board, in others they participate as requested. In addition to dealing with the issues of children and families who come before the board, they provide information about the court system.

DCF and Judicial are jointly funding a project in Hartford that will create a JRB-like structure. The project plan calls for the city to contract with a private agency that will convene a review board consisting of representatives from Hartford community groups and nonprofit organizations that serve families and DCF and Judicial staff. The board will receive cases from the Hartford Juvenile Court that involve children who have no prior court history. The contracted agency will be responsible for assessing the children, referring them to appropriate services as determined by the board, and providing case management services. DCF and the Judicial Department each contributed $50,000 to the project, and Hartford is providing in-kind support. The project is expected to begin in early 2005.

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