Facility For Juveniles Played Role In Rowland's Demise
April 2, 2005
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING And COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writers
On the day former Gov. John G. Rowland started his prison sentence,
his successor raised the specter of shutting down the Connecticut
Juvenile Training School, which played a key role in his administration's
In a letter to Department of Children and Families Commissioner
Darlene Dunbar, Gov. M. Jodi Rell expressed frustration that
the $57 million maximum-security facility has been unsuccessful
at rehabilitating youths and indicated she will recommend that
its use as a juvenile training school end.
"It's not simply a question of the building," Rell
said Friday in a prepared statement. "It's a question of
programming. It's a question of properly addressing the needs
of troubled children.
"Incarceration of juvenile
offenders is meaningless without a clear focus on education,
treatment and rehabilitation."
Built by a subsidiary of the Tomasso Brothers' construction
empire, the school has been criticized by legislators, and its
possible closing brought sighs of relief Friday from some.
With only 64 boys currently at the 240-bed facility in Middletown,
the state is spending more than $500,000 per year per person
there. Despite the low number of boys, the state still employs
about 365 full-time workers there - more than five employees
for each juvenile.
Rell has ordered the Department of Children and Families to
create a plan for the school's future and a place for the juveniles
if it were closed. Other state agencies, including the governor's
budget office and the correction department, will provide input
for the report due Aug. 1.
Once touted by state officials
as a "world-class" and "state-of-the-art" juvenile
correctional center, it is now decried as a white elephant.
Closing it would be "the ultimate failure" of the
state's juvenile reform initiatives, said Senate President Pro
Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, the highest-ranking member
of the state Senate. "The whole situation is a reminder
of the folly of this project, and the corruption that was involved," Williams
With the facility's future in doubt, lawmakers on Friday began
talking about other possible uses. One suggested it be converted
to a public boarding school.
Others, including Williams, said it could potentially become
an adult prison. But some lawmakers and Middletown officials
opposed that idea.
"To say it would be strongly rejected by the community
is an understatement," said Middletown Mayor Domenique Thornton. "I
think it would be completely inappropriate next to a mental health
facility. It would be a big mistake."
Although Rowland and Tomasso were repeatedly criticized over
the facility, some lawmakers said the legislature must share
some of the blame. The structure was built to replace Long Lane
School in Middletown, which was rocked by the suicide of Tabatha
Ann Brendle, 15, of New Britain, in September 1998. Her death
was the first in the school's 128-year history, and exposed the
facility's deep-rooted problems.
In response, legislative leaders
approved spending $57 million for a new training school and
decided to "fast-track" the
project by waiving the state's bidding requirements. The project
emerged at the center of a FBI investigation into contract steering
in return for gifts and cash.
Critics have complained that the state moved too swiftly to
shut down Long Lane and building the correctional center instead
of smaller, regional facilities that research has shown are better
for rehabilitating troubled girls and boys.
"The legislature will very often fast-track a whole bunch
of stuff without necessarily thinking it through. This is probably
one of those examples," said Rep. William R. Dyson, a New
Haven Democrat with 29 years of experience at the Capitol.
"Usually, we mess up
when we fast-track."
Dyson described the building
as a "white elephant," but
praised Rell for her stance. "She ought to shut it down," Dyson
The facility is mentioned prominently in a 54-page indictment
of Rowland's former co-chief of staff, Peter N. Ellef, and William
Tomasso of TBI Construction Inc.
Tomasso, Ellef and others went to Ohio to tour a correctional
facility that later became the model for the Middletown facility,
and federal prosecutors charge that the trip gave Tomasso an
unfair advantage over other contractors.
Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, one of Rowland's harshest critics, said
the timing of Rell's announcement Friday was ironic.
"It's particularly appropriate because Rowland is going
to jail today," Lawlor said. "The only shame is Rowland
isn't reporting to CJTS today."
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Child Advocate Jeanne
Milstein have criticized the training school's operations over
the past four years and warned that it was unsafe. They said
children were being improperly restrained and not receiving appropriate
School staff staged several protests over what was described
as unsafe working conditions that resulted from confusion as
to whether it was a prison or school focusing on rehabilitation.
In May 2004, eight workers were hurt during a violent weekend
at the school. The wrist of one was broken and another's nose
was broken. No children were injured. A month later, Milstein
and Blumenthal released a videotape that they said showed staff
members assaulting and mistreating a youth.
Union leaders representing training school employees said they
have been hounding authorities to improve conditions at the school
"It shouldn't have been built the way it is," said
Salvatore Luciano, president of Council 4 of the American Federation
of State, County and Municipal Employees. "It's built like
a prison, and would probably function better as a prison."
Rep. Gail K. Hamm, D-East Hampton, whose district includes a
portion of Middletown, said she would like to see the training
school converted into a community college or magnet school.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at