The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
December 9, 1994 94-R-0908
FROM: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director
RE: Juvenile Review Boards
You asked for background on juvenile review boards, and you were particularly interested in how to go about forming one.
Juvenile review boards (JRBs) are diversionary and prevention programs designed to help local police departments deal with juvenile offenders. They are usually composed of representatives of local youth service agencies, police departments, and the juvenile court.
There are roughly 30 juvenile review boards currently operating in the state, and although they are basically the same, some of them do operate differently. There is no single model that they must all follow. They can be created totally at the discretion of the municipality and the key to starting one is to have the local police and the local youth agency, usually a youth service bureau, agree on how the board will be structured and how it will work.
JUVENILE REVIEW BOARDS GENERALLY
Because JRBs are entirely local, there is no state agency that oversees them or keeps track of their existence or operation. Two years ago the Office of Policy and Management did a survey asking local police departments, and the local state police resident trooper where there is no local police department, if they had a JRB. About 30 towns said they did. Since then it is possible that some have been created or gone out of existence. JRBs have existed at least since the 1970s. A 1984 OLR memo reported that there were 25 and a survey done in 1980 by the East Hartford Department of Youth Services found 16. Some of the towns with JRBs include Berlin, Bristol, East Hartford, Enfield, Farmington, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, New Britain, North Haven, Old Saybrook, Southington, Stratford, Trumbull, Windham, and Windsor.
Also one JRB exists for the three towns of Andover, Hebron, and Marlborough.
There are no state statutes or regulations controlling the activities of JRBs. Typically they are made up of professionals involved in caring for youth, with representation from youth service bureaus, police departments, juvenile courts, schools, the clergy, and social workers. JRBs vary in size and specific methods of operation but they do share the same basic philosophy and purpose: to provide a meaningful alternative to the juvenile justice system for juveniles who have committed minor criminal violations. We have provided details about four programs to give a sense of how they can vary while being essentially similar.
The JRB consists of professionals, who are appointed by the resident state troopers of the three towns it serves. The purpose of the board is to offer meaningful alternatives to the juvenile justice system through intervention strategies that are responsible and community based. The board tries to design alternatives that promote responsible behavior by offenders and help solve problems that may be at the root of delinquent behavior, taking into consideration the needs of the victim.
The investigating officer refers the case to the resident state trooper of the town in which the offense occurred. The trooper contacts the parents or legal guardians alerting them to the situation and informing them that they may choose to have their case reviewed at the next JRB meeting. All referrals are held in confidence.
The resident state trooper, or his designate, presents a case including recommendations to the board. After discussion, the board decides upon a meaningful and appropriate alternative. The board is not involved in determining guilt or innocence.
The board's youth service worker presents the diversion alternative to the offender and his family. If they agree to it, the youth service worker becomes responsible for overseeing the agreement and reporting back to the board. If the offender and family comply with the diversion alternative, they will not have to appear in court and the offender will not have a juvenile record regarding the offense.
The JRB is a diversionary and preventative program designed to act as an advisory board to the local police department in its dealing with juvenile offenders. The goal of the JRB is to examine all cases involving the police to determine the most appropriate action for each. Representatives from the various agencies may have different perspectives on a youth or know of additional information that would be helpful to the police in deciding on a course of action.
The juvenile and his parents do not come before the board in East Hartford as they do in Windham.
The review board designs and offers alternatives that are aimed at: (1) promoting responsible behavior by offenders and (2) solving problems that may be at the root of delinquent behavior.
The board consists of professionals who regularly work with juveniles in Madison. They are appointed by the chief of police. The police youth officer (or his designated substitute) acts as chairman of the board, and the youth services coordinator acts as coordinator of the diversion programs. Other professionals who work with Madison youth and are regularly bound by confidentiality in their work are recruited for the board.
The investigating officer refers cases to the youth officer who contacts the parents or legal guardians alerting them to the situation and informing them that the case will be reviewed at the next meeting of the board.
The board meets every two weeks, and cases are presented by the youth officer, including recommendations made by the investigating officer. After discussion, the board decides on a recommendation that is offered as an alternative to the justice system. If there is a lack of information about the offender's social environment, a case may be tabled until the next meeting and a representative of the board designated to gather a social history. The youth services coordinator ensures that the alternative is presented to the youth and his family and reports the family's decision back to the board.
The JRB is designed to provide an alternative to juvenile court for juveniles who have committed minor criminal violations in Windham. Its goal is to provide a plan for each individual by utilizing community programs, social services, and other resources that will effectively deal with the criminal incident, assist in positive development, and encourage responsible behavior.
The JRB consists of 10 members. New members are appointed by a majority vote of the JRB members and approved by the Windham Youth Services Bureau. The members include five "at large" members and one designee each from the Windham Youth Services Bureau, the Willimantic Police Department, Windham High School, Kramer Middle School, and Juvenile Court.
"At large" members are community members with skills or experience working with youth and their families. They serve a two year term, renewable with the approval of the JRB.
Referrals are accepted when the juvenile has admitted his guilt and has signified his willingness to cooperate with the JRB by signing the required consent form. The signature of the parent or guardian is also required. Referrals are accepted from police departments and law enforcement authorities only.
FORMING A JUVENILE REVIEW BOARD
The first step in forming a juvenile review board would be to get the local police chief and the head of the local youth service bureau together to see if enough interest exists in the community to proceed. A JRB could not exist without their support and cooperation. In the absence of a local police department, the resident state trooper or other local law enforcement official would be the logical substitute. The next step would probably be to identify other key local players, such as juvenile court officials, local clergy who are active with youth issues, and other town or municipal officials who would have some involvement with youth and bring them together for planning sessions. Because JRBs are local they can be tailored to meet the needs and wishes of the particular locality. The planning group might want to review the structure and method of operation of other JRBs. Officials from other boards would probably be happy to come and speak with a group that was planning and attempting to start a JRB. Gary Shea, the director of East Hartford's Department of Youth Services, has helped a number of towns establish juvenile review boards. He says that an element of trust must exist between the police and the youth agencies and if it is absent, a JRB may not work. He cites West Hartford as an example of a town where efforts to establish a JRB failed. Shea may be contacted at 568-0181.