Injustice in Connecticut

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john-lash-smShe sits in solitary confinement 22 or 23 hours a day. She is 16, but has been involved with the system in one way or another since she was five. During her time as a ward of the state of Connecticut she has sufferedtremendous trauma, including “being ‘raped dozens of times’ by age 15, being ‘sold for sex, beaten up and addicted to crack cocaine.’”

She has also been involved in assaults and aggression towards Department of Children and Families workers and done time in all sorts of homes and detention centers.

Such behavior isn’t uncommon among kids who have suffered so much.

Now she finds herself in an adult prison, isolated from the other inmates with no access to socialization or education. It’s no secret that prisons do more harm than good. No matter how much we think someone deserves to be punished, the truth is that they will most likely come out less adapted for society than before. Here is her description of the experience from an article in the New Haven Register.

“I can feel myself growing more and more isolated, frustrated, and feeling alone in my current isolation. I need to be given treatment and services specific to my needs. I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. This prison cannot do that for me.”

It’s bad enough that a kid is in solitary confinement, and it’s worse that she is in an adult facility. But far beyond these injustices is the fact that she is there without ever being tried in a court, much less convicted by a jury. How did this happen? The government’s story is that she is so dangerous none of the facilities run by DCF can safely house her.

The truth is that DCF and the state as a whole have failed this girl, and now they are ready to throw her away. For them she isn’t worth the time or effort to help anymore, so they invoked a seldom used law to make the transfer legal. What they are not admitting is another factor in their decision making.

The girl is transgender, biologically male but self identifying as female. The impact of this is acknowledged in a statement by Harper Jean Tobin, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (DCF).

"There just doesn't appear to be any reason for DCF, which has custody of hundreds of traumatized and troubled youth every year, to do something it has not done in this century: sending a girl who is neither an adult nor a criminal to an adult prison."

DCF’s Vincent Paolo Villano said the organization was concerned that the youth has been singled out due to her gender preferences, and that housing her in any adult facility was unsatisfactory. As Tobin said, “[U]ltimatly this youth belongs with girls her own age.”

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the director of the DCF, Joette Katz, used the story of the girl’s assault on a staff member in her testimony to the state Legislature while making her case for a locked girls’ unit under the control of DCF. In an interview on WNPR Katz said, “That’s what’s unique about these kids. They have been victims of trauma; they have been abused, sexually abused … and they need that much more of an intensive-based treatment.” This facility is now open, but DCF claims the girl is too dangerous to be housed there.

Why is she being singled out? Sandra Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, points out that, “DCF asked for and the court approved a plan to treat this girl as if she were an adult and a criminal, although she is neither, simply because she is a transgendered girl. No other girl in DCF custody has been endangered in this way. The result, if not the intent, is clearly discriminatory.”

To sum it up, consider this. It is wrong to put kids in adult prisons. It is doubly wrong to put a kid who has not been convicted of any crime in an adult prison simply because the agency that failed her for the last 11 years doesn’t know what to do. And lastly this is being done to her because of her gender identity. There has to be a better solution than throwing her away.

Supporters of the girl are urging Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy to intervene. Check out #ReThinkMalloy and let’s see what we can do to make it right.