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Connecticut juvenile detention center facing closure

December 9, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s only high-security detention center for delinquent boys, tainted by complaints about youths being mistreated and high costs since it opened 14 years ago, is the closest it has ever been to being closed.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, said Tuesday that administration officials are “committed to finding out how to get the population ... down to zero” at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown. He gave no timetable.

“Clearly, the nature of the facility is very problematic for a lot of people,” said Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. “We’re already doing what you need to do to close it, which is to find another place for those kids to be taken care of.”

The state Department of Children and Families, which runs the 135-bed detention center, has reduced the number of boys held there by half since last year. The department said 67 boys were there as of Tuesday. The reduction has come amid a national shift away from incarcerating troubled youth to treating them in smaller community settings.

Barnes’ comments came after Democratic state legislators removed language to close the detention center from a deficit-cutting budget bill that was approved Tuesday. That upset some Republicans who cited poor conditions and a cost of about $543,000 a year to house each delinquent youth. Democrats said Malloy already has the authority to close the training school.

The training school has remained open amid repeated findings of improper use of restraints and isolation and calls for its closure since it opened in August 2001. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2005 called for shutting down the facility by 2008, but the plan ultimately was scrapped.

The detention center originally was built for 240 beds at a cost of $57 million to replace the troubled Long Lane School. It was modeled after the now-shuttered Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility in northern Ohio. The Ohio facility closed in 2009 following complaints of violence, mistreatment of youths and high costs.

In 2002, only a year after the training school opened, a report by the state attorney general and child advocate called it a “dismal” failure and a dangerous place where staff used restraints unlawfully and routinely placed children in isolation.

The child advocate’s office released a report with similar findings earlier this year, as well as videos of staff members forcefully taking children down and placing them alone in padded rooms. The videos sparked the current debate about whether to close the facility.

“All you have to do is watch those videos to tell you that’s not how you treat people,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “We could find a better place, a more suitable place, at less cost and clearly without a doubt better treatment.”

The use of restraints and isolation also were criticized in a 2004 report by the child advocate’s office, which said staff members violated the law.

David McGuire, legislative and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said the training school should be closed.

“The goal of juvenile justice is very different from the criminal justice system,” he said. “It’s about rehabilitation, not punishment.”

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

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