In video footage (above) released today from inside Connecticut’s juvenile correctional facilities, a distressed girl screams as she is restrained on the ground in a corridor.
She is left alone in a room where she ties a shirt tightly around her neck, tries to pull nail-studded wood off the wall and ultimately is taken out of the facility on a stretcher.
In another video (below), a boy who had reported suicidal thoughts is restrained and left lying on the floor, alone in a room.
A chart in the accompanying report from the state’s Office of Child Advocate tallies 55 instances of suicidal or self-harming behavior during a year in the same facilities.
The release of the video and report today is the latest from the state’s OCA. The watchdog agency helped reignite a debate about the safety and efficacy of the facilities in July with a critical report on conditions.
The discussion mirrors debates across the country about locking up juveniles and the services they need when they are confined.
Connecticut is often lauded as a leader in juvenile justice reforms and its decisions are likely to be watched carefully in other areas of the country.
The report this summer highlighted inadequate suicide prevention, lack of appropriate support and training for staff, inadequate and harmful crisis management, and a lack of transparency at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) and the Pueblo Unit.
Most youth at the facilities have been adjudicated delinquent for nonviolent offenses. Many have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect. They may have complex psychiatric disorders or special education needs, the report said.
The reports and videos show that the risks of juvenile incarceration are real even in a state with “one of the most richly resourced juvenile correctional programs in the country,” said Sarah Eagan, the state’s Child Advocate, during an online presentation of the videos.
She said many correctional facilities have evidence of self-injury, suicidal behavior and the inappropriate use of restraint. But there’s little data that the facilities work as a public safety measure.
“If we’re not seeing sort of rehabilitative, public safety bang for our buck and we are seeing a lot of risk and despair, the question that stakeholders and the state have to look at it is: How do we do the public safety work without doing harm to kids?’’ Eagan said.
The state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) said in a statement today that officials have banned the use of prone restraints and are phasing out the use of mechanical restraints.[module type="aside" align="right"]
Learn more about mental health on the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.[/module]
“We have already begun more effective use of clinical staff to prevent restraint and seclusion whenever possible consistent with safety. We are now implementing additional comprehensive action steps that will significantly improve the care and treatment of the youth at both the boys and girls programs while also reducing the use of interventions that we all want to avoid,” officials wrote.
About 11,000 young people are involved in delinquency proceedings annually in Connecticut and about 300 of those are sent to DCF’s custody by a juvenile judge, often after being provided community-based services, according to the department.
As of today, 68 youth were in custody at the facilities. The state reported a 60 percent decline in incarcerated youth from 2001 to 2011.
The department also released a report in July about conditions at CJTS and Pueblo that called for reforms.
Lara Herscovitch, deputy director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said that while the state has been a leader in some ways, there still is much work to do.
Advocates want to see the state move aggressively away from a corrections model to one that emphasizes therapeutic, rehabilitative strategies. The alliance has recommended closing both facilities.
“Connecticut is looked to because we’re willing to admit we don’t do everything perfectly. There’s a big fork in the road right now for the Department of Children and Families and the governor to provide real leadership. They have a tremendous opportunity to do the right thing for kids,” she said.
Herscovitch said earlier juvenile justice reforms in the state have tinkered at the margins, while wholesale change is required. In 2002, the Child Advocate’s Office and state attorney general documented many similar problems at CJTS in a report.
“This is a conversation 13 years in the making,” Herscovitch said. “We’ve had chronic problems with this types of facility.”
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