Connecticut should raise the age
at which teenagers enter the adult justice system from 16 to
18 and put the failed Connecticut Juvenile Training School to
appropriate use by housing those 16- and 17-year-olds there.
To put teenagers into adult prisons is both inhumane and self-defeating.
There is no question that the Connecticut Juvenile Training
School, which opened in 2001 in Middletown, is a failure. At
best it is a $57 million example of terrible planning.
The old Long Lane School was an open campus of attractive, if
aging, buildings for 200-plus children under 16, with one secure
building for 30 to 40 serious offenders. In contrast, the new
Connecticut Juvenile Training School has been built, frankly,
as a prison. From the street, you see a menacing perimeter fence.
Inside are tiny, bare cells, a third of them without windows.
Everybody is embarrassed by how CJTS turned out. There have
been efforts to improve it. One of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's early
official actions was to add $1 million in such touches as expanding
window sizes and covering walls with murals.
No matter how tough on crime we may want to be, the fact is
that Connecticut does not have 250 children under 16 for whom
this kind of secure, punitive facility is appropriate.
All past studies of children at Long Lane and CJTS have shown
that only a quarter to a third were serious offenders. The rest
were runaways, truants, kids fighting with their parents, parole
violators and petty miscreants who stole or vandalized, or were
caught with a few ounces of marijuana. Far too many were mentally
ill. More than 60 percent were Department of Children and Family
cases - abused or neglected. Remember, these are children 15
These children should not - must not - be at a place like CJTS.
The new head of DCF's juvenile justice division, Donald DeVore,
recognizes this. Greatly to his credit, he has moved all but
serious offenders out of CJTS. With the right services for them
and for their families, these children can get back on track.
There remain 60 to 80 children who do need to be in CJTS, even
if they are rattling around in a facility for 250. The cost is
astronomical. It used to be said that the cost of keeping one
teenager in prison for a year was the same as sending him or
her to Harvard, around $40,000. The cost for one 15-year old
in CJTS is more like $400,000. This can't continue.
How to make good use of the juvenile facility? Keep teenage
offenders out of adult courts and adult prisons until they turn
Connecticut is one of only six states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds
as adults and sends them to regular prisons. Most authorities
regard Connecticut's practice as pretty much a guarantee that
16- and 17-year-olds will be abused, hardened and schooled in
crime. On this, Connecticut is keeping company with states like
Mississippi and Oklahoma. Even Texas has us beat.
There is a win-win opportunity here. Raise the age at which
youths enter the adult system from 16 to 18, and send 16- and
17-year-olds to the juvenile training school. Invest in making
CJTS the model rehabilitative facility that was promised when
the taxpayers were asked to ante up $57 million. Donald DeVore
- the best new hire in juvenile justice in decades - can make
it happen. All of our troubled young people will benefit. The
state will recover some of its self-respect.
Betsy Morgan is director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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