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Editorial: Troubling case exposes problems in how DCF handles abused teens

By Editorial Board
On April 28, 2014

A strange and horrifying story is currently unfolding in Connecticut's Department of Children and Families. "Jane Doe," a 16-year-old transgender girl under the care of DCF was sent to solitary confinement in an adult prison this month, without being charged with a crime.
The DCF took advantage of a rarely used provision that allows them to transfer a minor under their care to an adult prison if they prove there's nowhere else they can care for him or her. In this case, DCF petitioned to have Jane Doe sent to York Correctional Institute in Niantic after she assaulted a staff member at a facility in Massachusetts. They claimed it was unsafe to have her at the facility.
This situation is alarming for a number of reasons. First, the girl has never been charged with or convicted of a crime. The staff member she assaulted did not press charges. However, Jane Doe has experienced severe abuse, including being repeatedly raped, beaten, denied food and trafficked for sex. It's common for young people under DCF's care to have serious behavioral issues from similar abuse. Solitary confinement in an adult prison is not the best environment to help her overcome a history of serious trauma.
Jane Doe's lawyers are appealing her transfer to adult prison on constitutional grounds. They claim that the state had options for placing her other than solitary confinement in an adult prison-and they may have a strong case for that. Many of DCF's actions have been, at best, strange in regards to Jane Doe.
First, the DCF petitioned to have her sent to adult prison after the assault in Massachusetts. Ten days later, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz described her case before the state legislature to show the need for opening a new facility in Middletown for delinquent girls. A month later, she made a similar claim. Katz then told a radio station that there are more than 20 DCF girls in similar detention situations and that the new facility in Middletown would have been full over the past few months.
In her last report to the legislature, Katz stated that there were only five girls in the 12 bed facility in Middletown. Jane Doe's lawyers say that the danger she posed has been greatly over-represented and that she should be in that facility. Susan Staub of the ACLU accused the DCF of using Jane Doe's story to get the facility opened.
Regardless of DCF's motives, solitary confinement in an adult prison is almost certainly not the place for a girl who needs socialization, psychiatric care and education. She should be moved to a more appropriate facility as soon as possible. 


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