State legislators eager to hear where the promised closure of the state’s controversial jail for young offenders stands were given an update Monday – and the Department of Children and Families has yet to offer an alternative solution to house and care for the couple of dozen youths who require a locked facility on any given day.
The department five months ago said it was looking into using two alternative properties owned by the state – High Meadows in Hamden or the Ella Grasso Regional Center in Stratford – but needed more time to determine whether either was feasible.
At that time, DCF officials said they were planning to host forums over the next three months to gauge options for serving some youth through private providers and have architects tour High Meadows, Ella Grasso and other properties to determine the best alternative to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) in Middletown.
On Monday, DCF told the human services subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee that it has not analyzed the cost to retrofit the other facilities nor has it solicited proposals yet from nonprofit community providers for help delivering care.
“We will be engaging in a collaborative process with a group of stakeholders to tour the properties with the chief architect from [the Department of Administrative Services] to weigh the pros and cons of each location and develop cost estimates in the coming months,” the agency wrote in documents submitted to the subcommittee.
The push to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School followed criticism from national experts of Connecticut’s approach to juvenile justice and a state watchdog’s investigation of conditions at the school, which included videos of youths being violently restrained by staff for not following orders. In December 2015 Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for closing the facility by July 2018.
“We are working to meet that deadline,” DCF wrote to the subcommittee. It said it in intended to tour the alternative state properties and request proposals from community-based providers for a secure setting soon.
Advocates long have complained that youths convicted of crimes not serious enough to land them in the adult correctional system, and who pose no risk to the public, are being incarcerated at the maximum security CJTS because there is nowhere else to put them – and that support services in the community are lacking.
When releasing what it would take for DCF to refocus its effort and money on community supports instead of incarceration, the agency recommended spending $7.2 million more to shorten wait lists and open additional supports for those struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. It also would expand vocational training and housing supports for those youths.
The governor’s proposed budget did not recommend those funding increases, cut funding for several community programs aimed at diverting youth from CJTS. Those cuts include to the School Based Diversion Initiative, the Neighborhood Youth Center, Juvenile Review Boards. He also recommends cutting funding for social workers for youth in the juvenile justice system, which would increase the caseload of the remaining workers.
Ben Barnes, the governor’s budget chief explained to the Appropriations Committee in February that the administration’s two-year budget proposal does not assume any savings from the closure of CJTS since the closure is still more than one fiscal year away.
“We don’t yet have a firm plan on exactly what the costs are going to be for whatever replaces CJTS,” Barnes said, adding, however, that they “will be no more than what the costs are there now.”