Top public defender says juvenile jails report ‘shocks the conscience’

Connecticut’s chief public defender says an investigation by the state’s child advocate into how youth are treated at the state’s jails for young offenders “shocks the conscience,” and condemned an “apparent disregard for the safety of these children.”

Susan Storey — whose attorneys represent the majority of the young offenders at the state’s juvenile jails — said Wednesday evening in a statement that Connecticut officials need to resolve the problems outlined recently in three separate reports. (Read stories on each of those reports here, here and here).

The Child Advocate’s report, released Wednesday “identifies serious deficiencies in how staff and clinicians respond to children in crisis, often treating these situations more as defiance and misbehavior than a mental health emergency,” Storey wrote. “Using mechanical restraints and isolation when a child is attempting to take their own life is a response that shocks the conscience. Furthermore, the fact that the Department opened the Pueblo Secure Girls Unit with the knowledge that some of the rooms contain ‘blind spots’ shows an apparent disregard for the safety of these children.”

Storey also cast doubt on whether DCF — which operates the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for convicted boys and the Pueblo Unit for girls — should be responsible for investigating complaints against employees at the jails.

“These internal investigations present a conflict of interest, and such responsibilities should be transferred to another agency or organization to eliminate any appearance of bias,” she wrote. “The fact that abuse and neglect occurs at the most secure child treatment facilities in the state is a serious problem that cannot be ignored any longer. Unless a major cultural change occurs in relation to what is acceptable behavior by staff at CJTS and Pueblo, these children remain at risk.”

Storey said her clients have long complained about being put in solitary confinement for rule violations.

“State law prohibits such seclusion,” Storey said. “Yet the Child Advocate’s report documents extended periods of seclusion occurring even when residents are not acting in an inappropriate or disruptive manner.”

Clients also complain that staff use physical restraints to manage the residents when it is unnecessary, she said.

“Until the Department [of Children and Families] addresses these deficiencies, we should not blindly accept that children in physical custody of the Commissioner are being well served,” Storey wrote.

About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
jacqueline_rabe

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other, with Keith Phaneuf, in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.'s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Jacqueline is in the public policy master’s program at Trinity College. E-mail her at jrabe@ctmirror.org.

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