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Lawmakers, State Officials Mull Future Of Juvenile Training School

by | Aug 21, 2015 2:56pm
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Posted to: Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Labor, Nonprofits, State Capitol, Transparency, Middletown, Mental Health Care

Christine Stuart photo

William Rosenbeck, superintendent of CJTS and DCF Commissioner Joette Katz

Should the Department of Children and Families Connecticut Juvenile Training School be closed? That’s the question lawmakers and state officials tried to answer Friday.

The facility was built during former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration and opened in 2001.

By 2002, the Office of the Child Advocate and then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had issued a report that found an inappropriate response to suicidality, overuse of restraint and seclusion, insufficient training of staff, no internal quality assurance procedures, and no independent oversight.

Those findings from the 2002 report, according to Lara Herscovitch, deputy director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, are exactly the same conditions found in a recent report by the Office of the Child Advocate and Robert Kinscherff, a consultant hired by DCF to make recommendations about the facility.

“You could almost change the date,” Herscovitch said. “. . . Thirteen years later and we’re having the same conversation.”

Herscovitch argued that Connecticut has been applauded as a national leader for many of its juvenile justice reforms, but it needs to see the forest through the trees and close CJTS.

She said she understands that everyone is trying to make the best of what Rowland built at the time, and everyone admits they would never build a similar facility today, “so let’s fix it for real.”

Asked if the facility should be closed, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said that decision is “not mine to make.”

Of the building itself, she said, “we can all agree was built on a correctional model.”

She said the two buildings in which the youth reside “are correctional in nature” and “I think that creates an issue of culture.”

She said what she would like to do is bring in some architects and ask them to walk through the two buildings to see what it would cost the state to reconfigure them and make them “more like dormitories.”

Katz said her goal is to have as few kids there as possible housed there, but she cited Kinscherff’s report in pointing out the need to have secure facilities.

“If you don’t have it, then you put incredible pressure on the rest of the system,” Katz said. “. . . In my tenure I think there will be a need for a secure facility. The question is, where is it? What does it look like? Those are your decisions to make. Mine is to make them as therapeutic and rehabilitative model as humanly possible.” 

Christine Stuart photo

Rep. Toni Walker and Sen. Gary Winfield and Rep. Robyn Porter listen to the discussion

However, Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who co-chaired the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee meeting Friday, pointed out that DCF has no idea how much of a success or failure it’s been because it hasn’t tracked the youth after they leave the facility.

She asked DCF if they knew how many youth leave CJTS or the Pueblo Girls Program, which opened in March 2014, and end up in adult prison.

They didn’t have the information, but a DCF official told Walker that they’ve given the past three years of data to the Office of Policy and Management to see if they can match it up with Department of Correction data and get an answer.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said it blows his mind that they have no data about how the youth are doing after they leave the facility.

“What I’m hearing is that we have no idea what’s happening with these young people after they have completed what’s internal to CJTS, and maybe some four or five months down the road in the community,” Winfield said.

Christine Stuart photo Chief Public Defender Susan Storey asked whether the 44 arrests of youth last year while they were confined to CJTS is any indication of the failure of CJTS to rehabilitate?

William Rosenbeck, the superintendent of CJTS, said “not necessarily, no.”

He said when he arrived at CJTS in 2007 they had over 80 arrests and over the years have been able to cut that number to about 20 per year, but last year they had a spike in arrests. He said many of the arrests were of the same individuals, who just happened to have multiple arrests during their stay at the facility.

“Some are assaults on staff. Some are assaults on other youth,” Rosenbeck said.

Walker, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, wondered if operating the two secure facilities is the best use of more than $30 million.

“We can’t keep saying we’re going to get to it,” Walker said. “We have to understand who we are serving and how do we best serve them.”

She said that when the state continues to have the same conversation “over and over again” it serves no one. She said over the next three or four months they will have “very concentrated meetings” that will address “the problem.”

“Children in Connecticut need to thrive no matter where they come from and we have to make sure that happens,” Walker said.

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Comments

(8) Archived Comments

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | August 22, 2015  1:15am

i shot a man in
reno, just to
watch
him die ..........

HST

posted by: TheGreatPazuzu | August 22, 2015  9:26am

Lawmakers should be debating why this walking gong show Katz should be allowed to serve in the capacity she is in for another minute.

This woman has absolutely no experience in child welfare.  Only another gong show like Dan Malloy would even consider putting a dunderhead like this in charge.

You tried to bust the consent decree and didn’t/couldn’t.  Do the honorable thing Katz and step aside.  Put your ego on the back burner and let someone who knows what they are doing in that position.

posted by: Roanie | August 22, 2015  6:45pm

Have some architects walk through the building? Right, put in some skylights. It will be a much more cheerful place to get handcuffed and thrown into a padded cell. This is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

posted by: Politijoe | August 23, 2015  3:40pm

Politijoe

When legislators asked Commissioner Katz if the facility should be closed she aptly pointed out the decision was not hers to make. Similarly, when lawmakers posed the question regarding the nature of the facility, she acknowledged what everyone in the room already knew and can agree on-the facility was built on a correctional model and is correctional in nature per the current Ct statute. As Kinscherff’s report stated, we need to have secure facilities. Commissioner Katz who clearly indicated that eliminating these settings would put incredible pressure on the rest of the system echoed this sentiment. Therefore, the question is not whether we need secure facilities for juveniles in state care; it is whether our commitment to these youth is grounded in their best interest. During the hearing Rep.Toni Walker pointed out that “DCF has no idea how much of a success or failure it’s been because it hasn’t tracked the youth after they leave the facility” The same sentiment arose from Sen. Gary Winfield of New Haven who said it “blows my mind that they have no data about how the youth are doing after they leave the facility.” The reality is these legislators may not have done their due diligence and subsequently failed to clearly articulate their line of questioning. For instance, are Rep. Walker and Sen. Winfield referring to indefinitely tracking individuals who are no longer in the care of DCF. Lets afford them some latitude and assume they are referring to youth who remain in DCF care. If this is their intention, then it too seems incomplete. As state legislators, it appears they are unfamiliar with the fact the state lacks an adequate mechanism to systemically share all data between state agencies. Much of what has driven these legislative hearings and scrutiny regarding DCF is a lengthy report from the Child Advocates Office regarding unlawful use of restraints and solitary confinement at the CJTS and Pueblo facilities. The challenge in this process has been relying less on the spectacle of political theater and contradictory oversight and more on an informed legislative body that understands the impact and the overall state child welfare system. For instance when the Court Support Services Division closed their 14-bed facility for nearly a month due to what has been described as a riot by the Hartford police, the Child Advocates Office took a slightly different response to teenage girls who were physically restrained, handcuffed and arrested. When asked, Mickey Kramer associate child advocate stated “They have a pretty sophisticated approach when problems bubble up, I’m confident they have the situation under control,” This would suggest there is some subjectiveness with regards to the demands and expectations placed on DCF that is made of no other state agency. Instead of scrutinizing a single entity we should evaluate all systems that touch youths lives equally, a commitment which does not appear to exist politically or technically

posted by: Roanie | August 24, 2015  9:41am

Politijoe, you are arguing my point. A CSSD program had a problem, and they closed it to make major changes. A DCF program is ILLEGALLY harming kids, and they hire a consultant ($40K and the meter is still running) to talk to the press and legislators about how great they are. That may save some careers, but it won’t help kids.

posted by: Politijoe | August 26, 2015  7:00am

Politijoe

@Roanie: I was hesitant about responding to your post and largely because I’m not sure what your point actually is. You stated the agency is illegally harming kids and has hired a consultant to talk to the press and legislators about how great they are. At best this is a gross over-simplification of the issue and frankly is an insult to the agency, the consultant, the legislature, taxpayers and worse, the juveniles in care.

I believe you missed the the critical gist of the post which was to apply a process to equally examine all the systems that touch youths lives including: juvenile court support services, DOC and SDE. This would require a level of rigor and robust evaluation across systems from a committed and informed legislative body that has done their due diligence.  Unfortunately a process that currently does not appear to exist politically or technically.

posted by: Roanie | August 26, 2015  3:24pm

@Politijoe - An insult to the “juveniles in care.” Seriously. BTW, I prefer to call them kids, children, young people. You know, like human beings.

posted by: Politijoe | August 26, 2015  6:14pm

Politijoe

@Roanie: I’m uncertain why anyone would take issue with the term juveniles since it is the very definition of kids, children, young people… You know human beings. I’m unaware of how one would use this term in a derogatory manner. Ironically, your comment “the agency hired a consultant to talk to the press and legislators about how great they are” is actually a very derogatory comment that suggest the juveniles in care are not important enough to anyone-including the state, workers, legislators, consultant, etc to discern the value, commitment and professionalism of a
Paid consultant…... For what it’s worth, thus far you’ve actually posted nothing concrete or substantive on the matter other than a rather unarticulated anger. However, if you perhaps have anything productive to contribute to the dialog I would be interested.