IN OPPOSTION TO: HB 1040: An Act Concerning the Registration of Juveniles as Sex Offenders and Notification of School Districts that a Registrant May Be a Student in the District
Senator Kissel, Senator Doyle, Representative Tong, and other members of the Judiciary Committee, my name is Susan Kelley, thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today. I am Director of the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH) (formerly, KTP Children’s Committee). ACMH is a statewide policy and advocacy group in that focuses solely on children’s mental health, including the critical overlap of mental health with child-serving systems such as education, child welfare, and juvenile justice in Connecticut.
Looking through the lens of optimizing children’s mental health for all children in the state, ACMH strongly opposes HB 1040 because its punitive goals—registration and notice to schools—is unjustly aimed at vulnerable youth sex offenders who often have been victims of childhood abuse and/or trauma and have related significant mental health problems. While public safety is important and must be balanced with treatment goals, this bill’s safety aim is misguided and potentially harmful to youth: research shows that “placing youth who have committed sex offenses on registries and subjecting them to public notification and residency restrictions does not in fact keep children and communities safe—it has no public safety benefits and can actually expose the youth and their communities to greater harm. (Emphasis added) (“Summary of Research Briefing by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Ph.D.,” Family Services Research Center, Medical University of South Carolina (June 29, 2011).
Juvenile sexual offenders have experienced a high prevalence of childhood abuse and /or trauma. In a recent study, the mean prevalence rate for sexual abuse in juvenile sexual offenders was 36.9%; 42.2% for physical abuse; and 48.1% for emotional abuse/neglect. Childhood trauma and/or abuse are further linked to mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and suicidal ideation. (“Child Traumatic Experiences and Mental Health Problems in Sexually Offending and Non-Sexually Offending Juveniles,” Child Adolescent Psychiatry Mental Health, 2016); https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093963/
In Connecticut, approximately 90 percent of juvenile justice connected youth have been exposed to trauma (Impact Report, Advancing Trauma-Informed Systems for Children, Sept. 2015, Child Health and Development Institute) and an estimated 97 percent of boys in juvenile detention had more than one diagnosable mental health condition (2016 CJTS advisory board update). The experience of childhood trauma is linked to the onset of over a quarter of all adolescent psychiatric disorders.
Placing youth offenders on registries—sometimes for life—also has profound negative consequences:
“Youth and their families are often the targets of threats and violence; youth are frequently ostracized, prevented from attending school, and are subject to such strict residency requirements such that ‘many [youth] are in effect banished from their neighborhoods.’ Often denied education, housing, and jobs, it can become nearly impossible for these young people to ever live normal, productive lives. A majority of registered youth interviewed for a 2013 report described many negative impacts which they attributed to registration, including feelings of depression, isolation, and suicidal ideation. Nearly one-fifth of youth interviewed attempted suicide and three had committed suicide.”
(“Sex Offense Registration and Related Laws: Treating Youth Fairly,” National Juvenile Justice Network, July, 2016, citing various sources); http://www.njjn.org/our-work/juvenile-justice-policy-sex-offense-registration-and-notification-laws
HB 1040 is also anathema to the rehabilitative goals underlying recent juvenile justice reforms in the state, such as the first “Raise the Age” law, and, current proposed legislation to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (SB 1025); establish a diversion system, based on the creation of a robust community-based system of supports and services, to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system (HB 7286); and “Raise the Age 2” (HB 7045). Similarly, on the federal level, the United States Supreme Court has outlawed the death penalty and mandatory life without parole for juveniles. These state and federal juvenile justice reforms recognize principles that run counter to HB 1040: that youth should be treated differently than adults; the juvenile brain is not fully developed until youth are in their mid-20s; and rehabilitation is the ultimate purpose of both juvenile court and diversion programs preventing youth from entering into the juvenile justice system.
Thank you for your time and attention. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Susan R. Kelley, JD
Director, Alliance for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH)
Director of Children’s Policy, NAMI Connecticut
ACMH is housed at NAMI Connecticut; NAMI Connecticut is a member participant and fiduciary for AMCH
Organizations/individuals joining in the above testimony
National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter