Legislative hearings will probe conditions at state’s juvenile jails

The Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, a locked jail for young males that break the law.


The Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, a locked jail for young males who break the law.

Legislative hearings will be held to probe conditions and practices at the state’s jails for juvenile offenders after reports that they placed youths “at risk of physical and emotional harm.”

Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Tuesday they had asked the co-chairs of the Appropriations, Children’s and Human Services committees to hold the hearings.

A report last week by the state Office of the Child Advocate, a watchdog agency, found many instances of “unlawful” or violent restraints and overuse of seclusion at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys and the Pueblo Unit for girls, both in Middletown. Among them were cases of offenders who were isolated for hours in response to attempts at suicide or self-injury. The report highlighted several cases in which inmates again attempted to injure themselves while alone.

That investigation also found that youths were physically restrained 532 times in the year ending June 30. One-quarter of youths at the facilities in any given month were restrained.

The state Department of Children and Families, which runs the jails, unveiled plans Monday to reduce the use of restraints and seclusion and expand clinical staffing and counseling at the jails.

“The issues and conditions cited in the child advocate’s report and in DCF’s action plan in response require a full and detailed legislative review,” said Sen. Looney. “It is important that we have a full accounting of the facts so that we can immediately act to ensure the emotional and physical health and safety of young people under the state’s supervision.”

Speaker Sharkey said, “The state has a responsibility to ensure that first and foremost a safe environment exists for both the youth and staff at these facilities, and that public safety is ultimately improved through the rehabilitation and treatment programs utilized there.”

Sharkey said it is a good time “to take a look at what improvements and progress DCF is making at the Juvenile Training School and Pueblo, as well as what can be done differently to help them better meet the goals of this important and very challenging mission.”

The committee co-chairs will announce the date of the first hearing in coming days.