A cross-section of workers from the juvenile justice system gathered Wednesday at AFSME Council 4 headquarters in New Britain to give Gov. M. Jodi Rell a failing grade when it comes to having a vision and making improvements in the juvenile justice system. The group of five employees noted that the juvenile justice system suffers from “poor leadership, incoherent planning and the chronic inability to focus at the task on hand.” The same group was also hesitant to endorse Rell’s plan to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in 2008.
Paula Dillion, a teacher at CTJS, said the effort and energy toward improving the juvenile justice system should be put into programming for the kids. She said the new Boys and Girls Club that opened up this past June is providing nothing more than a “recreational service.” Darlene Guthrie, a youth services officer at the school, said the club doesn’t provide any additional programming it simply gives the kids a place to play ping-pong and Play Station games. Rell praised the new Boys and Girls Club in a June 2 press release. “To help boys succeed when they return home, we need to encourage groups from their communities—like the boys and Girls Club of America—to make connections before the transition begins,” Rell said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. But Jeffrey Carr, a juvenile parole officer, who is responsible for keeping track of these kids upon their release in the community said there aren’t many community programs for their kids to get involved with once they get home. Left to right: Darlene Guthrie, Jeffrey Carr, and Paula DillionHe said when Long Lane, the school for female juvenile offenders in Middletown closed, there weren’t many places for the girls to go. He said many of the facilities are private facilities where the girls continue to get thrown out of for bad behavior. He said since Long Lane was closed the girls’ needs haven’t been met by private providers and community service agencies. Dillion said without programming it doesn’t matter where these kids are. She said the director of the facility, Don Devore continues to say CTJS was built like a prison and will always be a prison where an appropriate treatment model can’t be employed, however, these kids aren’t going to make it in the community setting where they’re not getting any services. She said with the appropriate programming CTJS could work. “What we’re doing for the kids goes deeper than the way it was built,” Carr said. Joanne James, a staff representative from the Connecticut State Employees Association, said the population at CTJS has increased to 106 kids. She said recidivism rates have increased and one-third of the teaching staff has left. There are currently about 35 teachers and 120 youth service officers. James said while the legislature may have a role to play it’s been mainly the governor’s initiative to close the school. James said these kids deserve better, however, “we have to do more than label the facility” if the problem is going to be solved. “We have to get services for the kids and not just throw money into a Boys and Girls Club,” she said. Rell spokesman Judd Everhart said Wednesday that the Governor “recognizes there are challenges that lie ahead,” and “has consistently worked hard to make additional improvements,” but is committed to closing CTJS. Everhart said Rell is in favor of “opening smaller community based programs to accomplish goals that are in everyone’s best interests – the children, their families and Connecticut as a whole.”