The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) recently opened a new locked facility, Pueblo, for young women involved in its juvenile justice system. As expressed in our recent testimony, Connecticut Voices for Children has ongoing concerns about this facility. Research shows that a locked facility is rarely the most effective way to treat girls involved with the juvenile justice system. These youth need comprehensive services in their communities and families. Moreover, the national trend in juvenile justice reform has been to move away from the creation of new secure facilities and instead to invest in evidence-based and therapeutic services. Connecticut has been a leader in these reforms, and has been lauded nationally for its commitment to reducing the number of youth in jails, and expanding services for girls.
Given these trends and the controversy surrounding the Pueblo facility, it is imperative that state lawmakers and DCF take steps to ensure that Pueblo is used safely and appropriately. The opening of this facility, moreover, marks an opportunity to evaluate DCF’s juvenile justice services. In order to ensure and expand upon Connecticut’s commitment to fair and effective treatment of girls in the juvenile justice system, we urge DCF and the General Assembly to consider several steps, as we outline in our issue brief:
- Connecticut should ensure that Pueblo is used only for the most high-risk population. DCF should assess risks and needs for youth to ensure that they are provided with the appropriate services. In addition, policymakers should approve legislation to require that only girls with the highest-risk level will be placed at Pueblo. These measures will help ensure that Pueblo is not used as holding ground simply because no other placements exist.
- DCF should evaluate and expand its community-based services for girls as alternatives to locked facilities. A series of recent reforms has led to a reduction in DCF’s appropriation by $183 million from FY09 to FY14. The money DCF has saved the state should be reinvested in a robust array of community services, including the development of a full continuum of services for children in the care of DCF. This reinvestment would ensure that all children DCF’s care have the opportunity to be successful.
- DCF should better measure and track outcomes for youth in its care, by increasing its capacity for data collection, program evaluation, and quality assurance. Policymakers should pass legislation to ensure that DCF can track recidivism data, which will help DCF measure the effectiveness of its programs. DCF should also implement a quality assurance framework to ensure its programs and services achieve desired results.
We applaud the important work that DCF and state policymakers have done to improve its juvenile justice services over the past decade. Implementing these safeguards and reforms will continue to ensure that Connecticut’s juvenile justice system serves all children efficiently, effectively, and empathetically.