Each year about 3,000 children enter Connecticut’s juvenile justice system after being convicted of breaking the law.
The state’s secure juvenile facilities for youth — young people convicted of offenses not severe enough to merit handling in the adult corrections system — have been under increased scrutiny lately following the release of surveillance videos by a state watchdog.
One-quarter of children arrested are convicted
Many of the 11,000 children arrested each year are acquitted or their cases are dismissed. Of the 2,700 children convicted last year, 11 percent were committed to the Department of Children and Families, which runs the juvenile lock-ups in Middletown.
Minorities disproportionately arrested, detained
Just as many black children were arrested as white children last year in Connecticut.
Considering that black youth only make up about 12 percent of all children age 10 to 17 in the state, this means black children were five times more likely to be arrested than white children.
It’s a disparity others states are also facing.
One in five youths in Connecticut are Hispanic, but they account for one in three incarcerated youths. This disproportionality is also occurring in other states.
A study from 2009 commissioned by the state found that not only are minority children disproportionately in the juvenile justice system, but they are more likely to receive harsher penalties.
For example, black and Hispanic juveniles were two to four times more likely to spend time incarcerated at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School compared to white juveniles convicted of similar crimes.
State officials are working now to update this study.
|Primary offense of youths at CJTS in 2014||#|
|Violation of probation or court order||37|
|Possession or sale of drugs||26|
|Carrying pistol w/o permit, selling dangerous weapon||22|
|Breach of peace||13|
|Assault of a public safety or emergency medical person||8|
|Escape from custody||4|
|Interfere with officer resisting||3|
|Evade reponsibiliy/property damage||1|
|Illegal possession of child porn||1|
|Illegal sale of credit card||1|
The crimes that land youth in jail
On any given day, about 70 boys are confined at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown.
Last year, 201 boys lived at the facility throughout the year. Some were sent to the correctional center multiple times.
Their average stay was eight months.
The primary crimes that result in incarceration for youths are mostly nonviolent offenses such as larceny or drug possession.
Data for the Pueblo Unit, the neighboring locked facility for girls that opened in March 2014, was not included in the annual report prepared for the commissioner about CJTS.
There are three ways that a youth is admitted to CJTS: direct placement from court, transfer from a hospital or residential facility or when it is determined that a youth on parole would be best served in confinement. Commitment from court accounts for half of the admissions and parole admissions account for 28 percent.
The boys at CJTS
Children committed to DCF for breaking the law typically have been in trouble before. Nine in ten youths put in the custody of DCF last year had at least one previous conviction and half had at least three prior adjudications.
However, many of the youth sent to CJTS were already in the custody of the Department of Children and Families because it was determined they were being abused or neglected at home.
Last year, 29 of the 222 boys who lived at CJTS were in foster care.
Foster youth are at the highest risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system when compared to other youths, researchers at the University of Connecticut recently found.
Increasingly more schooling missed
The boys who live at CJTS also attend school inside the facility.
That district, which also includes the two psychiatric residential facilities operated by DCF, disciplines students more frequently than nearly every other school district in the state, according to the Connecticut State Department of Education.
During the 2013-14 school year, one-third of high school students in Unified School District No. 2 were suspended at least once. And the average amount of time students miss school for these incidents has increased over the three most recent school years for which data is available.
One in eight youths will be arrested for a new crime while living at CJTS. Some of the videos released by the Office of the Child Advocate show the events that led to those arrests. The 45 arrests made last year led to some youth having their commitment to DCF extended and other cases being dismissed. One arrest led to a youth being sent to Manson Youth in the adult corrections system.
At the center of the current controversy — one that has led to legislative hearings — is how often and for what reasons youth are physically restrained or put put in seclusion during their stay at CJTS or Pueblo.
The Office of the Child Advocate reports there were 225 occasions of children being put in seclusion in excess of four hours last year.
But the DCF reports lengthy seclusions are relatively rare situations involving a small group of youth. Among youth that had to be secluded during the first seven months of this year, the average length was between 1 and 3 hours, DCF says.
Staffing at the facilities
Over the last 10 years, the number of youth at CJTS has fluctuated.
Between 2006 and 2013 the number of inmates hovered around 90 to 110 youth living at the facility on any given day. However, that number rose during 2014 and reached a 10-year high, though that number has since declined. The number of staff employed to work at CJTS haslargely corresponded with the number of youth living at CJTS.
|Outcome of grievances filed by youth||CJTS||Pueblo|
|Referral to hotline that handles abuse/neglect investigations||3||1|
|Human resources referral||2||0|
Several children living at CJTS or Pueblo have filed grievances last year with the ombudsman, who is an employee of DCF. Those complaints target seclusion policies, staff language and other living conditions.
The complaints surround the actions of 62 different staff members and some staff have multiple grievances filed against them. The complaints have come from 92 different inmates at the facilities.
Most of the complaints — 82 percent — are found to have no merit.
Four employees have been disciplined for improper use of restraint or seclusion since last fiscal year, and several others for various other infractions such as allowing youth to use an employee cell phone to make an unauthorized phone call.
The cost of incarceration
The cost of operating CJTS has grown by a modest 1.4 percent each year, on average.
However, with a price tag of over $30 million — or $744 a day for each child — legislators and advocates are questioning whether its the best use of resources.
Where they go after they leave custody…
Three-quarters of those who left CJTS last year went back home.
Thirty percent of the adolescents that left CJTS in 2014 found themselves incarcerated again before the end of the year. Of the 259 youths that left CJTS during 2014, 51 boys made it back to CJTS by Dec. 31 and 22 entered the adult criminal justice system.
The department does not track the outcomes of youth who leave CJTS past Dec. 31.