Nearly all of the ways that the judicial system serves justice are unfair, and it is the poor, underprivileged citizens who are suffering.
According to NAACP.org, “African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.” Seeing those statistics, I can’t help assume that the justice system seems to have a bias that black people are all the same: that they’re all agitators of civilization. This bias isn’t the truth and is displayed by many African Americans including 17-year-old Aymir Holland.
Putting children’s needs first means using the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Walter G. Cady School as part of the toolbox. It appears that some, including those in positions of advocacy and legislation, would carelessly ignore the programs that are in place while trying to create a new and unfunded system.
For too long the debate over the care of children and young adults in Connecticut with behavioral health needs, developmental disabilities or those in the juvenile justice system has been centered on the wrong issue. Important time, money, and other resources have been spent debating the future of specific programs, rather than focusing on how best to provide care and treatment that will meet individual needs.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly are to be commended for their 2015 “Second Chance Society” legislation, reversing racist laws that filled our jails with nonviolent drug users, most of them African-American and Latino. But it is ill-advised to pursue announced policies emanating from that corrective action; especially plans for secret trials of defendants in their early 20s.
In light of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to “Raise the Age” of juveniles to 20, it is time to recognize once and for all that Connecticut’s juvenile delinquent offenders should be sent to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and not to the state’s youth prison, Manson Youth Institute. Contrary to the Office of the Child Advocate’s misleading and politically-charged claim that we are abusing our residents, the truth of the matter is that the residents of CJTS receive a comprehensive, intensive, and high-quality array of services from dedicated and passionate professionals.
Before “raising the age” again, the State of Connecticut and its key justice agencies — DCF, DOC and the Judicial Branch including the Court Support Services Division — need to participate in an honest independent look at all of our current organizational structures for adjudicated youth. The purpose of this external review would be to examine creation of an independent Juvenile Justice Authority that is science-informed, takes a two-generation approach and is anchored in “evidence-based” policy, practice and programs. Clearly what we have now is not working well. Besides that, it is really expensive.
The Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Pueblo Unit should close. Institutions of this sort, by their very nature, inevitably depersonalize children, engender abuse and fail to address public safety. I know because I used to run one.
The recent report from the Office of Child Advocate states that the vast majority of children and youth at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and Pueblo have “histories of trauma, abuse, neglect, complex psychiatric disorders and special education needs.”
It then goes on to detail the use of isolation and restraints as behavior management strategies or for discipline even in non-emergency situations. I want to start by saying those charged with rehabilitating and treating this vulnerable population face difficulties and challenges. But are cycles of punishment that go nowhere and only harm our youth any better? I say no, and I offer an alternative: operating from an understanding of the impact of trauma.
At the end of a grueling three-hour hearing on Aug. 21, state Rep. Toni Walker, chair of Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee, laid the issue on the table. Referring to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, Connecticut’s only state-run youth corrections facility for boys, she asked, “The real question is, does Connecticut need CJTS? [Does the facility provide] the level of care that we really require in this state? Is CJTS the best method of delivering the needs for that population?” These questions are being hotly debated in Connecticut thanks to new revelations of a rash of suicide attempts and pervasive use of physical restraints and seclusion, both at CJTS and in the small Pueblo unit that opened nearby last year to serve troubled girls.
Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Neglect. Sex Trafficking. Community violence. Violent deaths of family and friends.
This is just a partial list of the traumas that many – if not most – youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system in Connecticut have experienced in their short lives. No wonder that they become willing to act “by any means necessary” in order to survive and protect those close to them — even if this lands them in juvenile prisons such as the Department of Children and Families’ Training School for boys and Pueblo Unit for girls.
In a scathing 68-page report released July 22, the Office of the Child Advocate reported on its findings after an investigation of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School over the past 18 months. OCA conducted site visits and interviewed staff and residents; viewed videotapes; and analyzed facility reports, educational attendance data and treatment plans. The youth prison model embodied at CJTS can’t be fixed. CJTS should be closed and here’s why:
Recent reports concerning the Department of Children and Families, along with Commissioner Joette Katz’s long history of failure, misplaced priorities and lack of transparency and accountability, leave me with no confidence in her willingness or ability to openly and seriously confront critical issues within her agency. That’s why I felt compelled to call for her resignation.