The legislature’s Committee on Children spent four hours Wednesday delving into the details of a consultant’s report on two locked facilities run by the Department of Children and Families.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the report by Robert Kinscherff, an expert from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, prompted her agency to make changes at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys and the Pueblo Unit for girls in Middletown.
The report was the first of two recently released. The second report was from Child Advocate Sarah Eagan. In that report, Eagan and her staff found that over the course of one year — from July 1, 2014, to July 1, 2015 — juveniles in the two facilities were physically restrained 532 times and handcuffed or shackled 134 times.
State law allows physical or mechanical restraints or seclusion to be used to “prevent immediate or imminent injury to the person or to others,” but Eagan concluded in her report that some of the uses of those techniques are for behavior management.
Katz quoted slightly lower restraint figures, however, citing data from a CTMirror news story. She said staff at CJTS restrained youth 40 times or less per month and that the numbers included in Eagan’s report highlighted a 13-week period that was not typical of the average.
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt agreed that the numbers Katz cited during Wednesday’s hearing were different from those contained in Eagan’s report.
“Our own data shows that about 40 restraints occur at the facility over the course of a month,” Kleeblatt said. “There are a limited number of youths who are subject to a disproportionate number of the restraints. I honestly don’t know what [Katz] was saying about the CTMirror story. I think just that the OCA cited a different numbers to the press.”
Reached Wednesday night, Eagan said Kleeblatt’s suggestion that “about 40 restraints occur at the facility over the course of a month” is fairly close to what her office counted during their study, but she added that they found videotape of incidents of restraint for which there were no official reports.
Based on that, Eagan said her office looked at DCF incident reports over the course of the year that contained any indication of a “physical or mechanical” restraint and counted them by hand. That’s because they had questions about the reliability DCF’s official numbers following communications from DCF confirming discrepancies in their data, and she pointed to a section of her office’s report documenting numerous efforts to obtain and substantiate data on incidents of restraint.
Eagan said the correct information was never provided, but the numbers DCF is offering now are fairly close in the aggregate. She released a statement Wednesday following the hearing, suggesting that while DCF still lacks reliable data on the efficacy of the CJTS and Pueblo facilities with respect to how often youth re-offend or experience otherwise poor outcomes, she “appreciates the recently issued DCF Remedial Action Plan and the agency’s acknowledgement of the need to address a host of conditions of confinement at these facilities and related system improvements.”
Before the committee on Wednesday, Katz downplayed concerns about the incidents and the atmosphere at CJTS.
“CTJS is not a dystopia and we are not ‘Clockwork Orange’,” Katz told the committee referring to the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess about a subculture of extreme youth violence.
Katz said that as of Wednesday there were 68 boys at CJTS and 6 girls at the Pueblo Unit.
She said they recognize the use of restraint and seclusion is not a therapeutic intervention and are limiting its use. However, Kinscherff pointed out that converting CJTS into a therapeutic care facility is a massive undertaking and will take years to implement.
But advocates are sick of the promises. They want the two facilities closed.
“Secure facilities are an important component of the juvenile justice system, and no jurisdiction in the country has a juvenile justice system without secure facilities,” Katz told the committee Wednesday.
Kinscherff, who was paid more than $40,000 for his report, told the committee that Connecticut’s facilities were very well-resourced. He also didn’t recommend their closure.
William Rosenberg, superintendent of CJTS, said two youth extended their stay there to get their high school diploma.
But what happens to those youth after they leave the facility is what Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, wanted to know.
Bye said the department doesn’t have good information about what happens to the youth after they leave the facility and whether they end up in the adult criminal justice system.
Kinscherff said he was given data by DCF that showed 70 percent of the kids coming into the facilities had never been there before.
“That allows an inference, but doesn’t document a fact that they’re doing better elsewhere,” he said. “The fact that they are not coming back would suggest that’s the case.”
Bye also questioned the need for the Pueblo Unit for girls. As co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, Bye said she has to wonder if the state should come up with a plan to close Pueblo and place the girls in a more community-based setting.
The state is spending more than $32 million a year on the two facilities.
Ideally, Bye said she would also like to see CJTS closed, but it’s not that simple.
“There are always going to be some secure places we need,” Bye said.
But the pressure on lawmakers to look at closing the two facilities is mounting and Wednesday’s hearing was just the first of three on the secure facilities.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said that if he was governor back in 1995 it’s not likely CJTS would have been built. His office has defended Katz and dismissed calls for her resignation even in the wake of videos from the two facilities showing a number of instances in which youth were restrained and secluded as a behavior management tool.
The videos are expected to be made public eventually.