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Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance calls for increased oversight of DCF

Source: Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (links added)

Case of girl sent to adult prison without charges highlights systemic failure

In the wake of revelations that an abused girl who is not facing any criminal charges is being incarcerated in an adult prison at the request of the Department of Children and Families, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is calling for increased oversight of DCF, particularly its juvenile justice activities.

The failure of DCF to provide this girl with effective services, its lack of planning for her future and its decision to incarcerate her as an adult are indicative of a larger, systemic problem that requires urgent attention. A pattern has emerged of DCF locking up a higher percentage of children committed as delinquents because it lacks a robust system of less restrictive options, which are widely acknowledged as better for kids and more likely to promote rehabilitation. This case is particularly startling but sadly in line with what is happening in Connecticut with increasing frequency.

Children within the juvenile justice system need special protection because in many cases they have been committed to DCF due to family neglect or abuse. DCF is essentially their parent and their jailor, giving the department enormous and largely unchecked power in their lives. About half the girls committed as delinquent in the juvenile justice system have open child welfare cases. The child involved is a survivor of traumatic abuse who was removed from her home by DCF at the age of four and is now in the agency’s care.

Though she is not facing any criminal charges, the department successfully petitioned to confine this 16-year-old in either York Correctional Institute or Manson Youth Institute, both facilities run by the Department of Correction for adults. She is currently at York, but may yet be assigned to Manson, a male facility where her safety would be endangered. The transfer order to the adult criminal system is pending, and her lawyers are seeking remedy in federal court.

By Connecticut law, generally only 16-year-olds convicted of A or B felonies are incarcerated in adult facilities. DCF based its request on an obscure law that had not been exercised in 14 years.

The child was proposed for both a male and a female prison because she was born male but identifies as female. She was expelled from an out-of-state facility after allegedly assaulting staff on January 27. By February 4, DCF was petitioning the court to transfer the youth out of its care and into the adult prison system. That brief window of time raises questions about the thoroughness – or even the existence – of an evaluation to plan the best treatment.

DCF has treated the child as both male and female. During this interim she’s been in the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, for boys, and York, for women. But on February 14 – while actively petitioning the court to send the youth to adult prison – Commissioner Joette Katz told a colorful version of the girl’s story to legislators as an example of the kind of girl who would be appropriate for a new locked girls facility DCF was requesting over the strong objections of advocates. DCF got its secure girls facility, but this girl was never admitted to it.

DCF’s use of incarceration for both girls and boys is increasing, despite ample evidence that incarceration is the most expensive and least effective response to delinquency. This is a disturbing trend. Advocates have cited a lack of less-restrictive services, such as community reentry programs, yet the department has concentrated on increasing its capacity to lock up children.

The extremely vulnerable children within the juvenile justice system deserve better than this.

Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is calling for:

– A committee of stakeholders, convened by the General Assembly, to investigate the treatment of children in the state’s juvenile justice system.
– A mandate that DCF make data more publicly available to increase transparency.
– The input of external stakeholders in the department’s corrective action plan responding to a report by Georgetown University experts that found serious flaws in the juvenile justice system.
– A comprehensive plan for girls in DCF care to prevent them from entering the juvenile justice system and to provide effective services for those who do enter it.