Federal authorities have opened an investigation into conditions of confinement for juveniles incarcerated at Manson Youth Institution, a high-security prison in Cheshire.
In an Oct. 15 letter addressed to Gov. Ned Lamont, Department of Correction Rollin Cook, Attorney General William Tong, Warden Derrick Molden and other federal officials, Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband said his agency will examine whether Manson’s restrictive housing practices violate minors’ constitutional rights, whether mental health services for juveniles are “constitutionally inadequate,” and whether the state has violated the constitutional rights of children with disabilities.
Manson Youth Institution holds young adults as old as 21, as well as 15 to 17-year-olds whose felony criminal cases are sent to the adult criminal justice system. The DoJ’s inquiries pertain to the conditions at Manson faced by those under the age of 18.
The federal investigation follows a scathing report from the Office of the Child Advocate last January that found juveniles at MYI “are the most likely to lose meaningful access to education, rehabilitative services, visits with family, even the ability to purchase hygiene products or extra food, if they are deemed a risk to the general youth prison population.”
The report also notes teenagers with the most complex mental and behavioral health needs are the most likely to be put in repeated and prolonged physical and social isolation, “a practice that research consistently shows has devastating impact for youth, increasing their risk of mental health deterioration and suicide.”
Children held in isolation under “Confined to Quarters” are locked in their cells for 23.5 hours each day and do not have access to school or rehabilitative programming. They are handcuffed any time they leave their cell to shower or make a phone call. Long-term isolation consisted of 21 or 22 hours of cell confinement each day, and limited access to education.
The Child Advocate found such prolonged physical isolation of minors violates state statute prohibiting the use of administrative segregation against children. The DOC disagreed with OCA’s characterizing the isolation as solitary confinement, the report noted.
“Should we identify deficiencies during the investigation, we will provide technical assistance promptly, where possible and appropriate,” Dreiband’s letter states.
Authorities will notify state officials if there are no systemic violations of constitutional or federal rights. If violations are found, the DoJ will provide written notice of the investigation’s results and make note of the minimum measures the officials deem necessary to address the issues.
In a statement released Monday, Cook said the DOC has “diligently worked to address the recommendations made by the Child Advocate” since the report was released in January. Cook said officials have expanded opportunities for education, programming and family engagement at Manson, and created a new mentoring initiative that aims to build relationships in the community.
“Thanks to the hard work of the staff of the Manson Youth Institution our agency continues to make positive changes to the way the youngest offenders in our care are treated,” Cook said. “As a firm believer in the importance of transparency, we look forward to assisting with the Department of Justice’s investigation in whatever way necessary. I am confident the investigators will find many examples of the positive progress we have made.”