Is it a violation of a 16-year-old’s rights to place her in a prison with adult inmates even though she has not been charged with any crime?
Her treatment is appropriate and legal because she has “an extensive history of violence” against staffers and other residents of psychiatric facilities, according to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
The youth is a female transgender child who was born male but identifies as a female. In court documents she is identified as Jane Doe in order to protect her identity.
She has been in DCF custody since age 5. A legal complaint filed in federal court by attorney Aaron J. Romano and the girl’s affidavit describe a series of hellishly violent homes in which she has lived off-and-on since that age.
“I was placed in DCF custody because my father was incarcerated and my mother was using heroin, crack, alcohol and possibly other drugs,” the girl wrote.
“While in DCF custody, I have suffered immensely,” she added. “I feel that DCF has failed to protect me from harm and I am now thrown into prison because they have refused to help me.”
The federal court complaint was filed against DCF and its commissioner, Joette Katz, as well as against the state Department of Correction and its commissioner, James Dzurenda.
Romano charged: “While under the supervision and care of DCF, from ages eight through 16, Jane Doe was repeatedly drugged, beaten, raped, homeless and was being commercially sexually exploited.”
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt issued a statement noting a Superior Court judge April 8 ordered the girl transferred from DCF and the state’s juvenile justice system to DOC custody and thus to York Correctional Institution in East Lyme, a women’s prison, because of her alleged violent attacks on others.
The DCF said, “We are sensitive to the traumatic and difficult experiences the youth has encountered over her life.”
But the agency’s statement added: “The judge who issued the transfer order heard evidence over a six-day period in which there was ample evidence provided by numerous witnesses stating under oath that the youth has a propensity for violence.”
“The youth has an extensive history of violence, including targeting female staff at several programs as well as other girls in the programs,” DCF said.
According to DCF, this included: stabbing a female peer with a fork; four assaults or threats on female staffers as well as an assault on a female peer resident at the Bridgeport Detention Center; and 10 assaults and several attempted assaults on staffers at the Solnit Psychiatric Center.
The most recent violent episode, DCF stated, came at a Massachusetts residential program where the youth assaulted a female staffer, “breaking her jaw and temporarily blinding her in one eye.”
DCF described her as “uniquely dangerous, in that no other youth at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School has exhibited such a long-established pattern of assaults.”
But Romano said, “Victims of violent sexual abuse frequently will exhibit aggression because they misinterpret signals.” Commenting on the Massachusetts episode, he said, “She was walking away (from an encounter), calming herself down, when a staff member came from behind and put her in a bear hug. She interpreted this as an attack.”
Romano said the youth is “in lockdown” at York’s mental health unit for 22-23 hours daily in order to keep her separated from others. “Her condition is deteriorating. She is receiving no counseling, nothing,” he said, as of last Wednesday.
The DCF statement said the youth will be allowed to participate in group activities, including education and treatment programs.
DOC spokesman Andrius Banevicius said, “We’re not going to comment on conditions or anything generally surrounding this situation. Since this would be in an article about Jane Doe, I’m not at liberty to say anything.”
Romano said the girl should be in a treatment center with a peer group and adult mentors rather than a prison. “She’s in a setting where aggression is the norm. Why would you put a child you want to reform in an aggressive setting where that’s encouraged?”
In her affidavit, the girl described her conditions: “During the day and night, I can hear the adult inmates screaming, banging and crying. I find it difficult to fall asleep.”
“I can feel myself growing more and more isolated, frustrated and feeling alone in my current isolation,” she wrote. “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.”
The only positive comment in her nine-page affidavit was her saying: “I have been provided with hormone treatments through DCF to further develop physical characteristics, including breasts.”
Romano said only once before in Connecticut has a judge granted DCF permission to transfer custody to DOC.
In his legal complaint, Romano charged the state law used to transfer the girl is illegal because it violates two federal laws: the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Romano is seeking to have a federal judge overturn the youth’s “unconstitutional transfer” by DCF to DOC. The complaint also seeks an order requiring DCF “to institute programming specific to the treatment and rehabilitation of transgender youth and children, which Doe would be permitted to attend.”