HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy closed the Connecticut Juvenile Training School Thursday, almost three months ahead of schedule.
CJTS is the Department of Children and Families run facility for delinquent boys. It sits on 32 acres of land in Middletown and originally housed more than 200 boys at various points since it opened in 2001.
Approved by former Gov. John G. Rowland the facility cost almost $57 million to build and additional money each year to operate. Malloy said that the facility represented “an ill-advised and costly relic of the Rowland era.”
The prison-like facility, according to Malloy, no longer served a purpose.
As part of the October 2017 budget deal, lawmakers transferred responsibility for the youth over to the Judicial Branch in January.
The number of youth being housed at the facility dropped significantly over the last three years.
In 2014, the facility housed 136 youth, but by 2017 only 45 youth were being held at the facility, according to state officials.
When first built, the facility was modeled after a high security Juvenile Prison in Marion, Ohio.
Malloy didn’t use the opportunity to celebrate, however. He said in a statement, “The fact remains that this isn’t a celebratory moment, but a time to reflect on the past mistakes made when it comes to juvenile justice.”
Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance’s Abby Anderson embraced the decision to close the facility.
“This is an important and good day for the children and communities of Connecticut… We now need to invest the time and resources into ensuring we have a full array of services to ensure the best outcomes for families and public safety,” Anderson said.
With the closing of the facility, Connecticut becomes the first state in the country to close all of its youth prisons, meaning prisons with 20 or more beds.
The facilities history has been marked by controversy. In 2004 it was reported that violence, low staff morale, and inadequate programming undermined the school. There were complaints that the afterschool curriculum failed to foster any actual growth.
In that same year, they hired a consultant, Donald Devore to help overhaul the school. Only a year after Devore’s hiring, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell received a petition signed by almost 200 teachers, parole officers and youth workers requesting to fire Devore.
In March 2005, saying the shortcomings of the training school were now “painfully and expensively obvious,” Rell directs DCF to prepare a plan for possibly closing facility by Aug. 1. Then in August 2005, Rell signed an order closing the facility by 2008.
That never happened and the facility continued to operate.
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance has continually complained about high recidivism rates and racial disparities.
The Hartford Courant reported on racial disparities at the facility in early 2017. The newspaper found that nearly 9 out of 10 of the facilities residents were either black or Latino.
As recently as 2015, the State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan released videos of children at the facility were being secluded and restrained. The release of the videos prompted lawmakers to again call for its closure.
The closure marks the end of an era of political and judicial controversy. The next decision to come is how to repurpose the six building facility.
Malloy said Friday that he isn’t certain how the facility will be used, saying, “There are buildings on that campus that probably could be used. There is a school on that campus and I think we should look at appropriate uses of that building. The cell portion of it, I don’t know what it’s value is.”