NEWINGTON - Residents whose children have had run-ins with the police may be familiar with the town’s JRB.
Anyone concerned with juvenile crime might be curious to know exactly what a JRB is and why Newington has one. The issue came to light in recent months following an uptick of car break-ins and other crimes by youths across the region.
An easy search of the town’s website brings up a quick explanation:
“The Juvenile Review Board is a collaborative effort between Human Services, the Police Department, Newington Public Schools, Juvenile Court, DCF and Interfaith Clergy Association,” it reads. “The Board meets twice a month to provide the community with a confidential means to assist youth who are involved in criminal or risky behaviors as an alternative to punitive actions such as Juvenile Court.”
About 25 people attended a Juvenile Crime Forum in Newington Town Hall on May 13, facilitated by Assistant Chief State’s Attorney Francis Carino. He and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane provided an overview of Connecticut’s juvenile justice system, including recent legislative changes, problems with repeat offenders, record-keeping, and conditions of release. The pair voiced their support of JRBs, diversionary programs that intervene between youth offenders and the court system.
About 85 community-based JRBs in Connecticut work with first-time teen offenders who have committed a misdemeanor. This approach is known as ‘restorative justice.’
In June, Human Services Director Carol LaBrecque was asked by the Newington Town Council to provide some insight into the town’s JRB. She presented an overview alongside Clinical Services Coordinator Pat Meskill.
“We’ve had a JRB in Newington over 25 years, at least as long as I’ve been here,” LaBrecque explained. “We typically deal with about 12 cases a year.”
Members include human services staff, school principals, Newington High School’s School Resource Officer and others. During in-person meetings with troubled youths and their family, the team discusses their crime and determines the next course of action - community service, residential treatment or another appropriate solution. Families are offered support services. The goal is to prevent further criminal behavior, avoid sending youths to adult court, and address the underlying cause of criminal activity. Those who opt out of the JRB’s recommended action are referred to court.
“It’s about identifying how we need to support the youth, whether there are family or financial hardships, mental illness, a learning disability or something else going on,” LaBrecque said. “We want to keep them out of the system and get them the services they need to turn around.”
In the majority of cases, they do.
“We’ve seen some nice, positive results,” she added. “It’s been quite a successful turnaround for many of our youth.”
About 90 percent of teens who commit first-time offenses benefit from treatment programs, according to Carino.
Sometimes the “sentence” the JRB determines is as simple as writing letters of apology to the people negatively impacted by the crime. In other cases, the teen is asked to volunteer for a specific cause or perform community service related to their actions. In some instances, youths are required to enter a residential rehabilitation program.
After the action is completed, the JRB follows up with youths and families to ensure they’re back on the right track.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.