Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Sen. Cathy Osten and Rep. Toni Walker co-chair the Appropriations Committee which restored the funding last week (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Advocates were encouraged by the Appropriations Committee’s decision to increase funding for Judicial Branch and state Department of Children and Families juvenile justice programs in its two-year budget proposal released this week.

But most realize that budget deliberations are far from over.

“We saw the $11 million as a big win,” said Christina Quaranta, deputy director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CJJA). “But there’s a long way to go before the budget is finalized. It’s been a long fight to get Judicial what they need.”

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According to figures compiled by the CJJA, the legislature has moved forward with several juvenile justice reforms in recent years but provided little or no funding for the programs.

The bulk of the money was there, said Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, it was just a matter of shifting it from one agency to the next. Osten also said she believes that by the time the budget is negotiated in the coming weeks, the additions the committee made for juvenile justice programs will remain intact.

“I believe it will all still be there,” she said.

In their biennial budget released this week, the committee agreed to give the Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division an additional $10.7 million in fiscal year 2020 and $10.2 million in 2021 to support juvenile programs transferred to the agency from the state Department of Children and Families in July 2018.

CSSD was assigned the task of housing and providing appropriate programming for juveniles on probation who needed residential placement and other services. The juveniles were formerly under the purview of DCF, which ran the now closed Connecticut Juvenile Training School.

The goal was to close the school, which was a large institutional setting, in favor of placing the juveniles in smaller, community-based residential programs. While DCF received more than $50 million a year to run the school, Gov. Ned Lamont offered Judicial only $17 million in his 2020 budget proposal to deal with the transfer.

Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll III had asked for $28.7 million in 2020. “To be clear, we cannot provide the intensive community-based secure programming this population requires with the amount of funding the governor has recommended,” Carroll told the committee in early March.

The move required CSSD to “repurpose” separate units within the Bridgeport and Hartford juvenile detention facilities to house kids on probation who require a locked residential setting, CJJA said. “This is a stop-gap solution that neither system insiders or advocates see as an appropriate ‘solution’,” CJJA said in their document outlining juvenile justice cuts that have taken place over the past few years as legislators have pushed for reforms.

The detention centers were meant for juveniles who are awaiting court proceedings on a short-term basis. CSSD officials said the $28 million was needed to find community-based providers for juveniles who require a locked residential setting, those who need to be in “staff secure” unlocked settings and those who need community-based programs while living at home.

Some of the additional $19 million that the Appropriations Committee added for the transition came from DCF. “We also added additional money,” Osten said.

The committee also gave DCF $1.3 million to be dispersed to juvenile review boards throughout the state. The boards deal locally with juveniles who get into trouble without sending the kids through the court system, CJJA said. “They are widely seen to be one of the key reasons the size of the juvenile court has been shrinking over the past decade,” the organization said.

The funding for the programs was one of the “casualties” of the transfer of at-risk kids from DCF to CSSD, CJJA said.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the Office of Policy and Management cobbled together federal money to keep the boards funded until August. The Appropriations Committee agreed to provide $1.3 million in 2020 and 2021 to keep the boards going. Osten said that there was never a break in funding even though CSSD did not fund the programs in fiscal year 2019.

“As we’ve been moving juvenile justice out of DCF we’ve been moving the funding,” she said.

The additional funding for juvenile services will save the state money in the long run by helping children before they wind up in adult prison, Osten said. “In the long-term taking care of children is cost effective and it’s the right thing to do,” Osten said. “You can take the morality out of it, although I do believe it’s the right thing to do, but you can’t ignore that it saves money down the line.”