Review Boards Give Youths a Chance to Redeem Themselves

September 8, 2010

“It was a youthful mistake.” How many times have we heard that explanation from a public figure or celebrity when talking about their past? The fact of the matter is, more often than not, society is willing to forgive youthful transgressions that allow young people who have committed an offense to have a second chance at becoming good law-abiding citizens.

Here in Connecticut there has been a great deal of talk over the years about how to deal with juvenile offenders within the state’s legal system. In an effort to divert children away from the state’s Juvenile Court system, many towns (including Avon, Canton and Simsbury) have established what are called Juvenile Review Boards (JRB). These boards (in lieu of Juvenile Courts) deal with young offenders who have no previous court history but have committed minor delinquent acts.

Nearly one third of all Connecticut municipalities have a JRB. Boards typically consist of dedicated professionals who deal children such as social workers, teachers, counselors, police, and clergy and they take their jobs very seriously. 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.

According to their mission statement the Canton JRB is a “community based program designed to act as an advisory board to assist the Canton Police Department in the specific cases involving police/juvenile contact. It strives to offer a range of meaningful alternatives to the criminal justice system and to assist the school district in enforcing their discipline policies through intervention and diversionary strategies that are responsible and community based.”

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 provide, and a child who agrees to be referred must be willing to waive those rights and admit guilt. Those who do not agree to a JRB proceeding are referred to Juvenile Court.

If you think that going before one these boards is a way in which an offender can get off easy, think again. Punishment can be severe, not just a “slap on the wrist,” and include warnings and reprimand, apologizing or making restitution to the injured party, attending counseling, and performing community service. It may specifically include curfews and the suspension of motor vehicle licenses. Other forms of punishment may include doing a research paper. For instance, a child caught setting fires may be required to visit the state burn center in Bridgeport and write about their experience. But it is these types of punishments that attempt to make these young people aware of what they did and also become more responsible.

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 they do not, the matter is returned to the board, which can modify or extend the contract or refer the child to Juvenile Court.

These review boards play a very important role in providing at-risk children and those who have had run-ins with the law an incentive to fulfill their agreements because upon completion their records will be wiped clean, giving these youths a chance to redeem themselves.