The Connecticut General Assembly’s Committee on Children called a hearing on Aug. 12 to discuss recent reports about conditions at the state’s two juvenile detention facilities: the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys and the Pueblo Unit for girls. Both are run by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
The reports found that young people in each facility were subjected to repeated, and unlawful, restraint and isolation.
Professor Robert Kinscherff of the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice wrote one of the reports.
He was contracted by the DCF to do the study, and testified at the hearing.
How did you first get involved with DCF?
I was first involved over a decade ago following an incident at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), and there was a period of consultation at that time. But more recently I began a consultation process in December 2014 at the request of DCF Commissioner Joette Katz.
At the time did you call for the facility to be shut down?
Yes, at the time I thought the facility was itself problematic, but also that there was a very traditional juvenile incarceration approach that would be difficult to rectify.
Did your opinion change with this new study?
It has changed to the extent to which I think there has been tremendous organizational change since 2004. And there have been new efforts to bring the Juvenile Training School into a more progressive and effective model to help stabilize children in shorter lengths of stay and to identify and meet their needs and to return them back, in relatively short periods of time, to re-engage with what should be the primary site with juvenile delinquents, whenever possible, which is community based services.
Tell us about these kids.
These are youth who have been committed by the courts for their failure to respond to community based supervision. They are often committed for a period of time to the CJTS or the Pueblo Unit where they’re stabilized, and effort is made to put them back out to community based services as soon as possible. They tend to be new to the facility, and they tend to be youth who have failed out of somewhere between three to six efforts at community based services before coming to the facility.
Who are the children who wind up restrained or in isolation?
One group of youths within the first few months of stay, these are kids who come in- they’re having trouble on the streets, in the community, with their families. They often have conflicts with kids who may already be there, and the first period they’re there they may require a restraint. They tend to account for most of the restraint. A small number of youth account for a disproportionate number of restraints. These are youth who often have pretty significant emotional disturbance- very significant trauma histories, sometimes pretty significant mental health needs.
What does being restrained look like?
To be honest with you, it’s not a pretty sight. It involves physical management of a youth. Sometimes the youth are compliant with the effort to restrain them and sometimes they’re not. So it may require adults to vigorously hold onto them. This can be dangerous for the staff and it can be dangerous for the youth. Restraints should be used as a last resort, when efforts to deescalate a situation has failed.