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Advocates: Violent videos should prompt reform of CT juvenile facilities

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FARMINGTON – Human rights advocates and mental health professionals are calling for the reform of Connecticut’s two juvenile correctional facilities after viewing videos of children unlawfully restrained and isolated inside.

"You're basically asking for an explosion,” Professor of Psychiatry at UConn Health Dr. Julian Ford said.

On Tuesday, the Office of the Child Advocate released the videos from inside the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and Pueblo Unit, run by the Department of Children and Families. They are an addendum to an 18-month investigation that found that the facilities had, "inadequate suicide prevention, lack of appropriate support and training for staff, and inadequate and harmful crisis management."

Ford said the use of force on the children may have escalated relatively benign scenarios. For example, a girl who refused to go to her room was restrained and put in seclusion. In another instance, a girl was put in handcuffs and shackles because she would not put her snack away.

"It's going to trigger a fight response to a large extent and the youth is not going to be consciously thinking, 'I want to assault a staff member,'” Ford said.

Ford said these tactics will also reinforce negative behavior such as the distrust of adults and authority.

"It also teaches youth that way to control other people is through force and that's exactly the wrong message,” he said.

Combine those factors with a population of a children who already have experienced extreme trauma, Ford said the outcome can be feelings of extreme isolation and even self-harm.

That is one of the reasons why the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is calling for the closure of the facilities.

"We think that there are much better options. There are smaller facilities that focus on the mental health aspect in the state that work much better for this population,” legislative and policy director David McGuire said.

On Thursday, national experts will discuss alternatives to the training school and the Pueblo unit during a presentation at the Legislative Office Building.