In 1990 the late Reverend Wes Evans of Second Baptist Church and I, as the then principal at Spaulding school began to research and discuss the formation of the Suffield Juvenile Review Board (JRB). Following many meetings and discussions JRB held its first official meeting in January 1992, 25 years ago. JRB groups were formed in many Connecticut communities following the passage of various public acts.
The purpose of the Suffield Juvenile Review Board is to, “provide an alternative and early means of identifying and assisting youths (18 and under) who are troubled or in trouble. The Review Board will accomplish its purpose through recommendations regarding the best method of dealing with the youth’s particular needs. Where possible, the Board will attempt to construct non-judicial case recommendations. These may involve options such as, individual or family counseling, psychological evaluation, community service, monetary restitution, or participation in group or other activities”.
The membership has changed over the years but representatives from various town agencies, schools, churches, and concerned residents continue to serve. We’ve also added the School Resource Officer (Tom Kieselback) and the Coordinator of Youth Services (Nikki Lengyel).
Over the past 25 years many young people have appeared before the JRB. The youth can only appear before the board after admitting guilt to an episode; the board does not decide innocence or guilt. The board makes recommendations to the Police Chief (Rick Brown). If the recommendations are agreed to, the student is given a deadline to fulfill all the recommendations. The Board reviews the young person’s accomplishments and, assuming all recommendations were met, the case is dismissed. No records of the student’s case are kept, but the student can only appear once before the board. If there is a further incident the police will refer the matter to Juvenile Court.
The success of JRB is in part due to the contributions of all the members of the board and many agencies in town that volunteer to help the young person meet the recommendations. Success is also due to the young person’s family taking the issue seriously, supporting the board’s recommendation, and taking steps in the family to prevent future incidents.
All the present and past members of Juvenile Review Board deserve accolades for their years of service toward helping many young people. Today’s board is made up of Mel Chafetz (chairman), Greg Halzack (Vice Chairman), Officer Tom Kieselback, Nikki Lengyel, Brian Casinghino (Juvenile Prosecutor), Jack Ferraro (VP McAlister School), Rev. Diann Bailey (First Church), Janet Frechette (Executive Director EAA), Ashley Molden (VP Middle School), Wendy LaMontagne (Dir. Parks & Rec.), Lori O’Neill (School Social Worker), Rob St. Amand (SHS School Counselor), Gina Olearczyk (VP High School), and Elizabeth Sagan (Police Records Clerk).
Final kudos to Barry Armata, former chair of JRB, and Jason Lobo, former member, who are now both superior court judges. A big thanks to the police department and commission for their continued support over the past quarter of a century.