June 18, 2006
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
About a third of the boys who left the state's juvenile correctional center in Middletown wound up back at the facility or in adult prisons in a matter of months, according to a recent review.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein say the revolving-door problem shows that the Connecticut Juvenile Training School continues to fail its mission, and they are demanding answers from the state Department of Children and Families, which oversees the school.
Blumenthal and Milstein said the failure rate is "especially shocking" given the money, resources and attention that have been invested in the $57 million facility over the past several years. State officials estimate it costs more than $500,000 a year to house and care for a single child at the high-security training school.
Faced with reports that the training school's programs are inadequate, state officials dramatically reduced the population, closed a controversial high-security treatment wing and sought funding for more community-based support over the past two years. They also added mentoring and counseling programs, run by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford and the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, at costs exceeding $100,000 a year.
Yet, for all that effort, Milstein and Blumenthal's review of 121 boys discharged from the school between Sept. 1, 2005, and April 10, 2006, showed that 27 of the boys - or 22 percent - returned to the training school either because they violated the conditions of their discharge or they committed new crimes, while 16 other boys who got into similar trouble were sent to adult correctional centers because they had turned 16 or older and could no longer remain in DCF care.
"It's really disturbing to see that the recidivism rate is still very high given the resources that have been poured into the facility," Milstein said Thursday. "DCF has made this issue a priority and these are the results?"
Connecticut's recidivism rate is either on par with or below the rates seen in other states, according to Donald DeVore, the head of DCF's juvenile justice division. But he said Connecticut can and should do better.
DeVore said it was important to point out that most of the children returning to the training school do so for minor violations of court orders, such as failing to attend school regularly or keep a curfew, and not because they committed new crimes.
"If our kids came in with only one problem it would probably be easier," DeVore said. "But they come in with a myriad of problems. We have to make changes in their treatment plans and sometimes they come back."
DeVore also said that many of the new community-based programs expected to help steer young people clear of future trouble - such as home-based family therapy, school assistance and expanded local juvenile diversion boards - won't start operating until the new state fiscal year begins July 1.
But Milstein remained deeply concerned.
"Just because Connecticut looks the same as other states doesn't mean it's good enough," Milstein said. "We spend a lot more money on juvenile justice than other states and this has been a priority for DCF, so why are the numbers still high?"
She and Blumenthal insist DCF must do better at assessing why children fail and identifying what services are lacking in the community. "We're looking for accountability here," Milstein said.
Concerns about high recidivism at the training school first surfaced in January 2005, when Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, found similar high recidivism rates at the training school in another independent review.
In the wake of Williams' study, Gov. M. Jodi Rell directed DCF to develop better support services for training youths at the school, including developing a better tracking system to keep tabs on the success of those who are discharged.
Blumenthal and Milstein said they found it disturbing that DCF still doesn't have a tracking system in place 18 months after the governor's order.
The pair, who have been monitoring conditions at the school closely to protect the boys' rights and make sure they receive adequate care, said they are also concerned that DCF sent 15 training school boys to programs out of state as part of their discharge - despite prior assurances that the agency would not do so.
"We know that success in the home and community depends largely on a well-planned transition to the community and consistent work with families and schools," Blumenthal and Milstein said in a letter to DCF Commissioner Darlene Dunbar this month. "This is not the direction any of us hoped for," they said, referring to children being sent out of state.
Of the 15 boys no longer in Connecticut, some are in a program in Pennsylvania and others are receiving services in Massachusetts.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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