A transgender youth under the care of the Department of Children and Families has been transferred to an adult prison with no criminal charge pending — a rare action that has triggered strong opposition from the state child advocate’s office and the youth’s public defender.
“This was nothing less than an extraordinary state action and is almost unprecedented,” said Child Advocate Sarah Eagan. “DCF is is this youth’s parent, and is obligated to fashion treatment and programming.”
In a written statement, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz acknowledged the rarity of the action, and said DCF did not do this lightly. She said such a request would only be considered if the department felt it could not safely hold an assaultive youth at one of its programs.
On Feb. 14, Katz, while lobbying to open a secure treatment facility for girls in Middletown, brought up this youth’s story in testimony before the legislature’s appropriations committee. Katz didn’t name the youth, but said that a staff member was blinded and had her jaw broken in the assault. Katz indicated the youth would be appropriate for the locked program, which was the subject of opposition from advocates and some lawmakers. The allocation of $2.5 million was approved and the unit is now open on the campus of the former Riverview Hospital in Middletown.
A state source said that the blindness to which Katz referred was temporary, and that the worker’s sight has returned.
The staff member who was assaulted, wrote a narrative of the incident in longhand, about 35 minutes after it ended. The Courant obtained a copy of the report of the Jan. 27 incident.
Advocates for children are questioning Katz’s decision to use the youth’s story to make her case for DCF’s locked treatment program, while pushing for the youth to be transferred out of DCF care and into an adult prison. DCF’s request for the transfer was filed in court on Feb. 4.
“Then why isn’t my client in the locked program?” said the youth’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender James Connolly.
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said Katz had no comment on that specific question.
In her testimony before the appropriations committee on the controversial locked unit for juvenile girls, Katz referred to the youth as “a young lady,” but did not mention her transgender status, according to the transcript of her testimony. This is what she said about the youth, 10 days after DCF had filed the request to transfer her to an adult prison:
“I … could have easily have filled these beds (at the proposed Middletown facility) in the last six months, and I have profiles of two girls now who are extremely complex.
“One I did not have an in-state facility. I will not, obviously, identify her by name, but she is a duly committed young girl. She’s 16. And my last best option was a wonderful out-of-state facility where she was going to get significant treatment. And shortly within a couple of months of her being there she — and she’s extremely assaultive and she has put several of our own staff in jeopardy and, most recently with this, again, wonderful out-of-state facility with whom we are now very likely burning bridges, she broke the jaw of one and blinded her. So these are — not all girls, obviously, but there are many who because of their traumas, because of their history, can be extremely assaultive and dangerous.
“My goal is to get them treatment, but it’s also to do it in a place where they are safe and they are not exposing other young ladies to risk. Because the last time this particular child was in a less secure setting, she got a two — a couple of other young ladies to run away with her, so then not only was she putting herself at risk, she was putting them at risk. So all of this combined made me feel comfortable in looking at this facility on our campus for ten beds.”
Connolly said DCF lawyers did not present any evidence on the staff member’s injuries during the trial on the youth’s transfer to prison.