In a scathing 68-page report released on July 22, the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) reported on its findings after an investigation of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) 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:

It isn’t safe.

The OCA report found excessive use of isolation, overuse of restraints, inadequate suicide prevention, lack of appropriate support and training for staff, inadequate and harmful crisis management and “scant” information on quality, public safety outcomes and oversight.

For example during a seven month period during this past year, the report found over two dozen documents of youth trying to injure or kill themselves. And this is likely an undercount, according to the OCA report’s author, Sarah Eagan.

These findings underscore the latest research that shows that removing youth from their homes and communities and placing them in correctional settings disrupts the healthy psychological development of youth. Youth are disconnected from their parents or parent figures, from peers who model and value academic success and positive social behavior, and from participation in activities that require critical thinking and independent decision-making.

Connecticut’s experience is unfortunately similar to experience in other states where youth face physical abuse, excessive use of force by facility staff, sexual abuse, over-reliance on isolation and restraints, staff on youth violence, and youth on youth violence.

And the OCA’s case studies of youth are consistent with national surveys of incarcerated youth by the U.S. Department of Justice.  These surveys showed that 42 percent of youth were somewhat or very afraid of being physically attacked, 45 percent said staff used force when they didn’t need to, and 30 percent said staff place youth in solitary confinement or lock them up as discipline.

It isn’t fair

Youth of color are disproportionately impacted. Just under half of the youth at CJTS are African-American and more than 30 percent are Latino.

Youth are penalized for having high needs such as special education needs. Roughly 50 percent of youth have been identified with special education needs.

The OCA report indicated that most of the youth at CJTS have high needs but do not pose a risk to public safety, and a number of these youth are under DCF’s care for abuse and neglect and not for delinquency.

Families are negatively impacted too. Families must travel a distance to have any contact with their children as the vast majority of youth at CJTS do not live close to Middletown where CJTS is located. Parents can also be charged for the cost of their children’s incarceration at CJTS.

It doesn’t work.

Connecticut taxpayers are footing the bill and getting a very low return on investment. At a cost of over $32 million per year to Connecticut taxpayers, and hundreds of millions of dollars since its inception in 2001, the OCA report noted the lack of evidence of CJTS’ effectiveness in improving positive outcomes for children or increasing public safety. Simply put, DCF can’t show that youth are better off or whether youth re-offend after being at CJTS.

While DCF does not have data on re-offense rates of youth at the facility, national research shows that by placing youth in correctional settings, it increases the likelihood that youth will reoffend. Incarceration in youth prisons such as CJTS is a significant predictor of involvement in the adult criminal justice system.

By contrast, community-based alternatives to incarceration could more effectively serve youth and at substantially less cost. Community-based programs cost $75 per day in contrast to the $750 per day that Connecticut is spending to incarcerate a youth at CJTS.

It can’t be fixed.

Citing numerous allegations of abuse and neglect and specific case examples of youth, the report makes recommendations, many of which have been made in previous reports by other experts.

DCF has not embraced most of these recommendations. For example, DCF rejected the CJTS advisory board’s recommendation that DCF put in place an independent ombudsman to review youth grievances.

In a response to the report, the DCF issued a statement about their plan to reduce the use of restraints and isolation and expand clinical staff.  This is viewed by juvenile justice experts in Connecticut as a short-term solution.

Connecticut has been on the forefront of juvenile justice for the past decade. Given its preeminence in the field, the path is clear: Continue to lead by closing CJTS.

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