Many states in recent years have raised the age at which young people may be held to account in adult court on serious felony charges. Not so many have raised the minimum age at which children may fall under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court.
Connecticut is one of the handful of states that is currently looking at raising the minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction, in this case from 7 to 10 years old. This is but one significant change to the juvenile justice system that would take place under Connecticut’s House Bill 6667, which has passed through two legislative committees and now awaits possible action on the House calendar.
More than half of states rely on common law to determine the minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to the National Juvenile Justice Network, not a single state has raised the age to 14, as recommended by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
According to a news report May 20 by CTNewsJunkie, 112 children under 13 years old were referred to juvenile court in 2019 — and nearly three in 10 of those were 10 or younger.
“Subjecting such young children to the criminal legal system causes trauma and creates, rather than avoids, further court involvement,” said Claudine Fox, interim policy and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, in committee testimony on the bill.
One effect of running kids through the juvenile courts, whatever age they may be, is the disruption of their education, said William Carbone, executive director of the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven, which advises the legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee.
He said a child from New Haven could be detained in Bridgeport and schooled by that city. That youth might then be placed in Hartford and sentenced to Manson Youth Institution, which is schooled by another district. HB 6667 would make the Department of Children and Family Services responsible for tracking and monitoring the progress of any youth detained and ensuring that there is a re-entry plan for when they return to the community.
Other parts of the bill would prohibit the state Department of Correction from using pepper spray on youth under the age of 18 incarcerated at Manson and York Correctional Institution.
The bill would also require the formation of a group to look at ways to end or limit school suspensions and expulsions, which tend to disproportionately affect Black kids and other youth of color. Previous efforts have fallen short of expectations.
Connecticut is not the only state looking at raising the floor for juvenile arrest. The minimum age for juveniles is also an issue in New York State and North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, the arrest of a 6-year-old Black boy for picking a tulip while he waited at his bus stop stirred momentum for change.