Scathing report cites deficiencies in how state handles confined youth
HARTFORD — The organization that oversees child safety in Connecticut just issued a scathing report on the confinement of children in the judicial and criminal justice system.
The Office of the Child Advocate is different from the Department of Children and Families. They are an independent state agency that oversees all publicly funded services to children, including DCF. They advocate, make recommendations and investigate, and on Wednesday they released their report on their investigation into child confinement.
There are about 120 kids in Connecticut whose crimes landed them in the adult penal system. Their brains are still developing. “We have a lot of work to do in Connecticut,” said Associate Child Advocate Mickey Kramer. They often come from broken homes — and battle addiction, homelessness, abuse and neglect. “They are already beaten down and then they go into a system where for some of them they feel like that continues so they don’t feel like they have a voice,” said Heather Panciera, the Assistant Child Advocate.
The Office of the Child Advocate issued a 93 page report on child confinement. It was the result of a year of data collection and case study. They did so at the direction of lawmakers following their 2015 report that lead to the closing of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School last year.
The report found there are a lot more children of color in the system. “It’s pretty obvious that kids of color are significantly racially disproportionately accounted for in the deepest end,” said Kramer. It also revealed the state isn’t doing enough to prevent youth suicides. Kramer said, “The risk for suicide for youth who are incarcerated. Whether it’s in a detention program or in a prison system. And we don’t have currently a uniform approach to screening and assessment.”
OCA is making recommendations. They want to ban solitary confinement for minors, make all staff who work with confined youth mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect and they want the use of chemical agents like pepper spray on kids, barred. “It’s is particularly dangerous to utilize with youth who already may have an underlying respiratory problem like asthma,” said Kramer.
OCA says their ultimate goal is to get kids the services they need to avoid prison. But once they are in the system — to give them the social and educational resources to transition out and stay out. “They want to do well. These are the kids who were suspended when they were 6, 7, 8 years old from school so they’ve already missed a lot of the milestones that we want kids to have,” said Panciera.
So what happens next? OCA will take their findings and recommendations and present them Thursday to the Juvenile Justice Policy Oversight Council. The meeting is open to the public right here at the Legislative Office Building between 2-4PM.