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Public Safety and Emerging Adults in Connecticut: Providing Effective and Developmentally Appropriate Responses for Youth Under Age 21

Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, in collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven, present Public Safety and Emerging Adults in Connecticut: Providing Effective and Developmentally Appropriate Responses for Youth Under Age 21.

In this new report, authors Lael Chester and Vincent Schiraldi examine the legal, policy, and fiscal impacts of a cutting-edge proposal by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy to include emerging adults up to age 21 in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system. If passed, Connecticut would be the first state in the nation to expand the juvenile justice system for those 18 and older. The report cited the significant declines in juvenile and emerging adult arrests following previous legislation that gradually raised the age of Connecticut’s juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18, reforms that corresponded with reductions in youth crime, incarceration, and correctional expenditures.

The report shines light on a developmentally distinct age group that Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice refers to as “emerging adults,” whose brains are still developing as they transition from childhood to adulthood, heavily relying on parents for financial, emotional, and housing support. Research suggests emerging adults are more prone to risky and impulsive behaviors, more sensitive to immediate rewards, less future-oriented and more volatile in emotionally charged settings—psychological characteristics that mirror younger juveniles in some respects.

The report offers 15 recommendations, including the expansion of a robust diversion system and the enhancement of alternatives to pre-trial detention, to ensure that the resources of the formal justice system are used only when no safe or less restrictive alternatives are available. The study also recommends the development of a full continuum of care for youth and emerging adults sentenced to the Department of Children and Family Services through a regionalized network of small, therapeutic facilities for the small number who need to be confined, as well as a network of community-based programs in youths’ neighborhoods.  The study asserts that, with appropriate planning, the Connecticut juvenile justice system can provide effective and developmentally-appropriate services to both youth under 18 as well as emerging adults up to 21.

  • “This report provides our state officials with a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and opportunities involved in raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. It will be a reliable guide as our policymakers consider this major step in our state’s continuing juvenile justice reform efforts. We are grateful for the outstanding work of the team at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management for their efforts in putting this report together.”
    • -William H. Carbone, Director of the Tow Youth Justice Institute at The University of New Haven

Lael Chester is a research fellow, and Vincent Schiraldi is a senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management.