Surveillance video from inside the state-run juvenile jails released Tuesday shows youths being forcibly restrained and dragged into solitary confinement, where some then attempt to injure themselves.
These eight videos were released by the state Office of the Child Advocate as state legislators grapple with the future of the locked jails. Watch the videos here. A trio of recent reports, including one from the child advocate, concluded there were major problems in the facilities, run by the Department of Children and Families. (See stories about those reports here, here and here.)
In her report, the child advocate relied on surveillance videos as a key element in her investigation of the facilities. Her report concluded that staff were “unlawfully” restraining and secluding youths and that conditions of incarceration were “dangerous.”
State law only allows for the use of restraint and seclusion “as an emergency intervention to prevent immediate or imminent injury” to an inmate or others. The videos do not show the youths attempting to hurt themselves or others immediately before the attempts to restrain or seclude them begin.
“I could show you many videos just like this one,” Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said Monday during an interview as she showed a video of a girl repeatedly trying to injure herself after being left in seclusion. “The response you see does not look very therapeutic. One of our whistleblowers said that she was concerned someone is going to die in there.”
The child advocate’s office has access to the videos in its role as a watchdog over the welfare of children. Eagan said she grappled with whether to make the sensitive videos public.
She said her goal in doing so was “to inform and educate the public regarding conditions [at the juvenile jails] … and to further assist the state with its efforts to improve outcomes for confined youth.”
“OCA must lean towards disclosure of even sensitive information where such information is critical to the public’s understanding of a child-serving system and necessary to shedding light on the experience of children in state care,” the office said in a report released with the videos.
On any given day, nearly 70 youths convicted of offenses not serious enough to land them in the adult corrections system are incarcerated at the two facilities run by DCF in Middletown. In the videos released Tuesday, the faces of both staff and youths at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Pueblo Unit have been blurred to preserve their privacy.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz has said these incidents are being taken out of context.
“When you view these tapes in context, so you examine the 15 or 20 minutes preceding the snippet that has been shared publicly with the news media, I think you get a different perspective. So I just want to highlight that because I think it explains it but puts things in a different context, I should say,” Katz told WNPR about a month ago, shortly after the videos were shown to some reporters and legislators.
Katz said then that her agency planned to release longer versions of the surveillance videos so the public and legislators could get the full story behind the incidents.
The DCF released at mid-morning its own videos of three incidents at CJTS, two of which involve one of the youths included in Eagan’s report and videos. Agency officials said they plan to release more.
In a statement Tuesday, DCF said it is “”committed to reducing the use of restraint and seclusion to the fullest extent possible.”
The agency’s action plan to address problems raised in the reports includes eliminating the use of face-down, prone restraints, and mechanical restraints are being phased out except when youths are being transported. Additionally, DCF said it will ensure a clinical staff member is present every time a youth is restrained and require counseling sessions during periods of seclusion. The role of clinical staff has also been expanded so they work closer with other CJTS employees.
The agency said it is making changes to reduce “the use of interventions that we all want to avoid.”
Experts from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform also have questioned whether the state’s facilities are conducive to rehabilitating troubled youths.
“The need to use restraint or seclusion is viewed as a clear intervention failure,” said Robert Kinscherff, a national juvenile justice expert who released an evaluation recently of Connecticut’s locked facilities after spending months assessing them. “Genuinely concerning information has been produced about specific cases regarding seclusion duration, responses to distressed youth and supervision of youth during seclusion.”
When youth are secluded in locked rooms, mental health staff are “largely limited to quick mental status assessments rather than active access and engagement,” he reported.
The videos released Tuesday show staff on several occasions entering a room when a youth is attempting to hurt himself or herself. After whatever was being used to cause themselves harm is confiscated, staff leave the room but watch from outside the locked door.
Mental health staff are now at the facilities until 8:30 during the weekdays and until 5:30 p.m. on the weekends.
Staff in one video are seen removing the wood trim from a window and closet after a youth in seclusion attempts to injure herself with objects in the room. The inmate is restrained in the corner while staff work to make the room safe. They leave her when they are done, and lock the door.
The agency has promised to hire outside consultants to assess the safety of the facility. Requests Monday and Tuesday as to whether an expert has reviewed Pueblo yet went unanswered.
One-quarter of youths at the DCF juvenile jails are restrained in any given month, or 532 times in the fiscal year that ended July 1, the advocate found.
The videos posted below show eight incidents.
Each video starts by quoting the incident report DCF staff filed after the confrontation. Each ends with a list of institutional infractions or criminal charges lodged against the child in response to the incident. The videos range in length from slightly over four minutes to just under 13. The backgrounds of the youths involved were provided by the child advocate.
Officials from the Office of the State Child Advocate and mental health professional presented their analysis of these videos during a webinar Tuesday. Watch that here.
WARNING: The videos contain graphic material.
Jennie, 16, has been at Pueblo for a year. She initially entered DCF custody in foster care after it was determined she was being abused and neglected by her family. She later was convicted of breaking the law and sent to Pueblo. She has significant mental health needs and has experienced multiple traumas.
Roberto, 16, is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depressive Disorder, Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) and Conduct Disorder. He was sent to CJTS for the 4th time in April. Roberto’s original commitment to CJTS was on assault charges, and he has since accumulated additional charges, mostly for breach of peace.
Videos of his restraint and seclusion have been released by both the child advocate and DCF. The DCF version does not add any context about what led to Roberto’s being restrained. The agency’s Day 1 video begins with his being dragged into a padded cell and the Day 2 videos with him already in a cell.
Nathan was also first committed to DCF as an abused/neglected child before he got into trouble for breaking the law. He has had numerous psychiatric hospitalizations beginning at the age of 10. He has had many diagnoses and has a history of hallucinations. Nathan was sent to CJTS after being convicted on a burglary charge.
Eleanor has been in and out of foster care since she was 7 years old following allegations that she was being physically and sexually abused. She has been hospitalized several times for suicide attempts and has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Eleanor ran away from a treatment program and was missing for months. After she was found, she was brought to the Pueblo Unit.
Melvin is a 17-year-old who is experiencing his second admission to CJTS. He has been diagnosed with a mood disorder and a learning disorder and has been hospitalized and has received outpatient treatment.
BD, 16, has been in foster care since age 7 after he was physically abused and then abandoned by both parents. He is diagnosed with PTSD, conduct disorder and cannabis abuse.
This is his first admission to CJTS. This incident in the video happened less than two weeks after his arrival.
Other videos released by DCF
DCF released two other videos, made on May 3,without providing any further information about what’s shown. It’s not clear if the individuals in those videos are youths referenced in the reports of the child advocate.