By Abby Anderson
Connecticut and I got involved with the Campaign for Youth Justice in late 2005. They were a new organization, I was a new advocate and Raise the Age CT was a new challenge for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA). We were all a great fit for each other. It’s been ten years; neither of us is new anymore and Raise the Age CT is in its second iteration, now referring to efforts to bring young adults up to the age of 20 into the juvenile justice system. Connecticut’s progress is partially due to the ongoing support, networking opportunities and relationships the Campaign provided to CTJJA.
Raise the Age CT was a success because of a broad coalition of stakeholders across the state. It was my job to stage-manage and organize among the advocates here. Like I said, I was new and relied mainly on instinct - and the Campaign. They provided technical, practical and moral support throughout the Raise the Age CT efforts, staying involved long after many supporters would have moved on.
As we worked to produce a short video, develop a presentation for community meetings, and coordinate an educational hearing, the campaign was there at every turn, pointing us in the direction of the latest research, experts and best practices. They helped us understand how to get our information to a wide variety of stakeholders in a short period of time - technical support. When legislative champions said, “It would be great if you could get a whole mess of people to the Capitol for a rally,” we turned to the campaign and said, “we didn’t plan for a rally – we don’t have the budget for buses!” And the Campaign said, “plan the rally, we’ll cover the buses.” - practical support. Of course, the staff added, “Also, do you need one or two of us to come up that day to help with coordination and crowd control?” - moral support.
I joked (though it was true) that for a 12-18 month period I talked with the people at the campaign as much as I spoke with anyone in Connecticut. They helped me, and the whole Connecticut coalition, through the stressful, unpredictable, exhausting – but ultimately successful Raise the Age process.
When the legislation passed in 2007, I didn’t fully understand that our work was just beginning. Getting a state to say it’s going to do something is (I learned) much easier than getting the state to actually implement what it said it would do. Luckily, the people at the campaign knew that an advocate’s job doesn’t end when legislation passes. They provided the same supports and guidance to us as we moved through the more technical, less visible process of moving Raise the Age CT from a legislative idea to an on-the-ground policy and practice reality. The five years from original passage in 2007 to full implementation in 2012 required the full attention, investment and skill set of Connecticut advocates. Skill sets that the campaign helped us to develop, augment and master.
Perhaps the most important legacy of our relationship with the campaign is just that – the relationships. The people we met at the campaign and through their network remain friends, allies and partners in the work to this day. The campaign is focused not on building and retaining knowledge for its own storage and use, but on exporting best practices, expertise and ideas as broadly as possible. We are so proud to be part of the Campaign family and congratulate them on their first ten years.
Abby Anderson is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance whose mission is to to reduce the number of children and youth entering the juvenile and criminal justice system, and advocate a safe, effective, and fair system for those involved.
This post is part of the CFYJ #IMPACT Blog Series, a project celebrating CFYJ's 10 years of commitment to juvenile justice reform.