Mothballed youth facility recommended for young people
Three years after its closure, the Justice Department recommends renovating the former Connecticut Juvenile Training School as a therapeutic environment for teenagers incarcerated on charges of adults.
The teenagers, all under the age of 18, are now incarcerated at the Manson Youth Institution and York Correctional Institution while their cases are pending before an adult court. A state investigation into Manson practices recently concluded that the facility violates the constitutional rights of teenagers by often using isolation as a punishment for minor violations and by failing to provide adequate education or psychiatric care.
The recommendation of a committee of branch officials, attorneys, and court staff would ask lawmakers to fund an approximately $ 22 million project to renovate CJTS so that it can be used as a locked therapeutic environment for the teenagers while they await a decision. The facility would cost about $ 18 million a year to operate, according to the branch.
The benefit would be that teenagers accused of serious crimes would have the opportunity to receive the kind of services that would lead them to productive lives, said Gary Roberge, executive director of the Judicial Branch‘s Court Support Services Division would run the facility.
“We will provide the necessary therapeutic services while they are incarcerated to combat their criminal behavior,” said Roberge. The goal is to provide them with the tools they need so that they don’t come back through the system, he said.
The plan is to upgrade the CJTS campus for educational and professional programs, indoor and outdoor recreation, and medical and mental health services. The staff would involve the young people in dialectical behavior therapy, “which helps children to better understand their thought patterns,” said Roberge. “It’s all about cognitive behavioral thinking and how to change thought patterns.”
On any given day there are about 50 men under the age of 18 in Manson and three young women in York, separated from the adult female inmates. According to the plan, the teens would stay at the renovated CJTS until their 18th birthday, then move to Manson or York while their case is pending. They could also be removed from the program if they are before their 18th birthday.
Some of the same proponents who worked hard to close the sprawling CJTS campus near Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown are now behind the plan to reopen, said Martha Stone, founder and executive director of the Connecticut Center for Children’s Advocacy.
“I was one of the original people who spoke out in favor of closing CJTS,” said Stone, who was on the committee tasked with devising a plan to get teenagers out of adult prisons. “I was very committed to this plan (reopening the facility). I think it’s the best plan that made the most sense. “
But not all advocates of juvenile justice stand in solidarity with the recommendation to renew the CJTS. The Connecticut Justice Alliance, which advocates for justice, has realized that there is likely no other government agency to get the teenagers out of Manson and York, said Iliana Pujols, the organization’s political director.
“It’s kind of a damn-if-you-do-and-damn-if-you-don’t situation,” said Pujols. At the beginning of the trial, Pujols and CTJA opposed the use of the old facility for the teenagers detained during the investigation, she said.
“But the reality is that the kids have to get out of jail and that was the only way,” she said.
The Justice Department had to recommend a plan by January 1 to get the youth out of adult prisons a new law last year passed. The resulting 101-page document outlines the various options for removing the teens, including building it on a new state website that could cost up to $ 78 million, the report’s authors said.
That plan could take years and probably wouldn’t find much support because of the cost, the report said.
There have also been discussions about redesigning the current youth prisons and residential centers to accommodate the teenagers detained on adult charges, but this idea also caught up with the committee due to the physical limitations of the buildings being in an urban setting with no avenues Outside areas are not well received, the report said.
CJTS closed in 2018. The facility was seen as a kind of prison for delinquent juveniles who had been sentenced to probation in a dormitory. At that time the facility was run by the State Ministry for Children and Family. When it closed there were about 45 or 50 young men in the facility that were turned over to the Justice Department.
Young people who have been sentenced to probation and housing treatment by the juvenile court are now housed in three dormitories of the judicial department. Neither site was large enough to hold an additional 50 children, who may be held for several months while their cases are processed in adult court, the report said.
The renovation plan could take up to five years, depending on the state tendering process and permits required, Roberge said.
The report is now in the hands of lawmakers, who must approve the plan before the branch can proceed with hiring an architect to spell out what needs to be done, Roberge said.