Manson Youth Institution

The number of young adults at Manson Youth Institution fell by 42% between March and November of this year after the Department of Correction closed two units at the Cheshire facility and transferred those inmates to other prisons.

On March 1, there were 401 people between the ages of 18 and 21 incarcerated at Manson. The next month, there were 288. That number declined even further by Nov. 1, when there were only 233 young adults at the high-security penitentiary, an almost 42% decrease from March.

“We’re continually evaluating space with a responsible budget eye,” said Karen Martucci, DOC spokeswoman.

Those inmates were not simply released. State data shows there were 659 people between ages 18 and 21 incarcerated across Connecticut on March 18, 2019. On Oct. 31, there were 623.

Martucci said those who were held in the Manson units that closed were sent to other prisons that had bed space and were best able to meet their needs.

Manson also holds boys between the ages of 15 and 17 whose cases have been transferred to the adult justice system. The number of minors at Manson has fallen dramatically in recent years because of legislative reforms, an emphasis on diversionary programs and fewer arrests of children and young adults. There were 51 juveniles at the facility as of Nov. 1.

The Department of Justice is investigating whether the prison’s restrictive housing policies violate minors’ constitutional rights, if the facility’s mental health services for juveniles are “constitutionally inadequate,” and whether the state has violated the rights of children with disabilities. Martucci denied that the federal probe had anything to do with transferring young adults out of Manson to free up space.

“The closures took place prior to being notified about the DOJ investigations,” she said.

Altogether, there were 284 juveniles and young adults incarcerated at Manson as of Nov. 1. The prison routinely held around 700 inmates throughout the 1990s and in the 2000s.

Manson’s population could fall further in the near future. It’s unclear how long the facility will continue to hold minors whose cases have been sent to adult court. Officials are considering several options that would remove the minors from DOC’s custody. That would mean there would be roughly 50 fewer inmates there.

There are also fewer people in that age group entering the criminal justice system. Arrests of 15-21-year olds have fallen dramatically since 2008. That could mean fewer people in Connecticut prisons regardless of whether DOC remains responsible for minors in the adult system since arrests of young adults have fallen by between 51 and 65% over the last decade, depending on age.

A shrinking prison population could make it easier to close a facility that’s already winding down its existing occupancy, suggested Dan Barrett, legal director of ACLU of Connecticut.

“If the building is largely empty, that would seem to me, to make decisions, no matter what decisions, pretty easy,” he said, meaning it would be simpler to transfer the remaining inmates and staff to other prisons. “All that kind of stuff is easier, the fewer people you have.”

DOC said it is not positioning itself to close Manson by sending inmates to other prisons throughout the state.

“Honestly, we have not considered any of that,” Martucci said. If the minors were removed from DOC’s responsibility due to a legislative decision, she added, the department might take another look at how to best utilize its resources.

“If we see a drop in a certain population, then we reevaluate,” Martucci said. “But I wouldn’t say that there’s any plans to close Manson.”

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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