The title of the seminar looked
intriguing: "From Crisis
to Success: The Reform Initiative at the Connecticut Juvenile
It seemed worth a trip to Miami Beach last week to hear all
about it, because it sure doesn't look like success from up here.
Donald DeVore, the man who
runs the scandal-spawned school, started modestly enough: It's
a "work in progress," he
That was right after he spotted
me in the audience and came hustling over to assure me he wasn't
violating Gov. M. Jodi Rell's travel ban. "We're paying for this out of our own pockets," he
said. He and his posse weren't even staying at the conference
site, the posh Eden Roc Renaissance Resort and Spa, he assured
me. He had booked a cheap place in South Beach.
Uh ... OK. But what I really
wanted to know about was this "crisis
to success" stuff. It seemed an odd way to characterize
the most appalling legacy of the Rowland administration, a monstrosity
built not for the benefit of the troubled kids it houses but
to satisfy the ambition and greed of Rowland's cronies.
But, hey, if ever there was a place to suspend reality, Land
of the Impossibly Beautiful, Bronzed and Buff was it.
So, I sat there and listened to DeVore and his associates talk
about the turnaround at the school. Workers are receiving intensive
and ongoing training. The notorious Building 2, where the most
violent offenders were housed, has been closed. Violence is down.
Programs have been added to cut down idle time. And, DeVore told
the group of awe-struck juvenile justice types, the use of restraints
and seclusion is at an all-time low.
"I think some really good work has been done," DeVore
said as he walked the small audience through a slick PowerPoint
The reforms at the school were nothing short of remarkable,
said Orlando Martinez, a consultant who's been paid $28,525 in
the past nine months.
Francis Mendez, who's in charge of programming at the school,
got downright giddy describing an apple-picking outing that staff
and kids took.
But, DeVore repeated, it was
still a "work in progress."
As it happened, I'd met one of those works in progress, 16-year-old
Tyreem Tillman, a few days before. Two weeks out of the training
school, and aside from a few visits from his parole officer,
Tillman had yet to see any of the post-release support the school
set him up with. The family service worker hadn't come by. No
one was monitoring his medications. No word on the drug rehab
program that they had insisted had to be in place before he was
allowed to go home.
After his presentation, I
asked DeVore about this. Wasn't discharge planning - or the
lack of it - at the top of the reform list? Right there in
the February progress report he co-authored, it talks about "enhancing our ability to track the progress
of these children once they leave CJTS." Wouldn't someone
have to show up to do that? He conceded that that was still an
area they were working on. Another work in progress.
What about the claims I heard from several folks, including
Tillman, that harsh restraints and lengthy seclusions are still
used on a regular basis? He scoffed; kids don't always tell the
But it's not just kids. Public
Defender Jim Connolly said he hears from clients regularly
that the use of restraints and seclusion remains common; he
believes them. State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein said children
are being handcuffed despite the section of DeVore's "action plan" that
calls for minimizing the use of mechanical restraints.
"There are a lot of people who don't want to see CJTS ever
improve" DeVore snapped. "It's been a whipping boy
for so many years that there are a lot of people who really don't
want to give it a chance."
So, I asked a few of those people he's so convinced want to
see it fail.
"From the beginning all we have wanted was for this facility
to succeed, to give these boys an opportunity to learn, to grow,
to become productive members of society," said Milstein. "But
they continue to demonstrate an inability to do it effectively."
"Look at Tyreem," said Connolly. "He
is the epitome of their best effort at a discharge plan. In
all the time I've represented kids there, I don't think I've
seen that much effort put in, and even with that, it was a
And it doesn't come cheap. The school, designed to hold 240
boys, houses about 70, while staffing remains at about 365. A
collective gasp echoed across the room when DeVore mentioned
the $500,000 it costs to keep one boy locked up at CJTS for a
With that price tag, we shouldn't be talking about a work in
progress, but a work of art.
Helen Ubiñas' column
appears Thursdays, Sundays and alternating Tuesdays. She can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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