Recognize or repurpose CT Juvenile Training School, don’t close it

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The Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, seen through its security fence.

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.

In her dogged efforts to see the Connecticut Juvenile Training School close its doors once and for all, Child Advocate Sarah Eagan has done nothing but incite legislators to launch an attack against the wrong enemy. She has many of them convinced that CJTS is the problem. But the real issue plaguing the discussion is that officials refuse to see our successes of the school.

The Cady School provides, as Commissioner Joette Katz has testified repeatedly, a key resource within the juvenile justice system.  Our communities are plagued with fewer job opportunities and schools where kids fail either through lack of resources or attention.  The Cady School and CJTS, where residents thrive, must continue to be used as opportunities for these youth.

We are not saying that CJTS is the solution for every part of the juvenile justice system.  However, closing it while ignoring success is foolish.

CJTS should not close. It is neither the enemy nor the problem. However, it can and should be part of the solution.   Young men who need a secure facility and an education upgrade should still be allowed to participate in programs at the Cady School and at CJTS.

In the meantime, in what is assumed to be the first step towards a closure, the number of youth at CJTS is diminishing. But this is not because there are fewer juvenile offenders.

Chronic delinquent offenders who should be benefiting from the extensive clinical, vocational, academic, social, recreational and medical services at CJTS are instead being sent to Connecticut’s youth prison, the Manson Youth Institution.

While the Manson may also provide services for young men sentenced to prison, it presents a whole different label placed upon these youth.  As the governor recently said, we should concentrate on assisting young men before they are incarcerated.   His entire Raise the Age initiative depends upon flexible programming for young men before they are forced into prison.

At MYI, young men do not receive a fraction of the programming and support that CJTS provides. On the contrary, even the youngest inmates at Manson can spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells and far less time is spent on therapy and school– a regular and mandatory part of the programming at CJTS.

If members of the General Assembly are in fact concerned about success, education, positive development and the therapeutic needs of these youth, if they are so concerned about the proper use of crisis management and physical restraint techniques, what is their replacement for a secure and highly educational program?  The sound of crickets on this.  Because no one else wants a juvenile program in their neighborhood?  Because it would cost too much?

There is an urgency to “get rid” of CJTS while identifying no positive replacement.   Instead, key officials continue to be quick with their anti-CTJS rhetoric and to publicly patronize and reject rational proposals put forth by other committee members who fully comprehend the need for the facility. Watching this play out, how do you not question the political and personal agendas of those involved?

Numerous recommendations are currently being made that send the state’s juvenile offenders back into the broken homes and communities that caused the problems in the first place. Once back in these environments, our state’s highest-risk youth quickly become dangers to themselves, to each other, to their families and to the community at large.

These young people are not in the system for petty things; their behaviors and choices are often violent and self-destructive. Indeed, the staff at CJTS hear about such tragedies regularly – but confidentiality prevents us from sharing this information.

To be fair, the idea for community-based programming is a good one; it’s an ideal to strive for. But let’s be realistic. If these community programs are not developed in time, if they are not comprehensive enough, if they fail, what is Plan B? There is none. And there would be no CJTS and Cady School to fall back on.

Connecticut would be foolish to demonstrate urgency by shutting down CJTS.  While urgency is the claim of the day, bad decisions made for political reasons hurt kids.  Not one young man or education staff  or residential staff has been invited to ANY of the discussions about CJTS.  Key legislators have refused to meet with any staff.   CJTS and Cady School is a state-of-the-art facility that can easily be repurposed  to meet the needs of Connecticut’s juvenile offenders.

Alternatives:

Turn CJTS into a multi-programmatic facility: offer a day school where youth unwelcome or unsuccessful in their home schools can complete their education; a respite to youth known to be in imminent danger on the streets; a trauma-based therapeutic program for the multitudes of young people with incomprehensibly unfortunate backgrounds; a high-security facility for the more impulsive and violent offenders who desperately need the locks and the fence.

I implore you to start targeting the real problems that overshadow Connecticut’s most at-risk young people and let them return to where they will be safe, nurtured, successful, and have the best chance at finding a way up and out of the shattered system.

Recognize CJTS.  Or repurpose CJTS.  Thank you.

Suzanne Borner is a special education teacher at Walter G. Cady School at CJTS.

 

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