Good rid­dance to ju­ve­nile train­ing school

In the years since its open­ing, the state has moved to a more com­mu­nity-based sys­tem, with the vast ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple with crim­i­nal records mon­i­tored at home or as­signed to res­i­den­tial, group-home set­tings.

The Day - - OPINION -

T here should be no mourn­ing the clos­ing of the Con­necti­cut Ju­ve­nile Train­ing School in Mid­dle­town. The con­tract to build it played a cen­tral role in the bid-rig­ging scan­dal that drove Gov. John G. Row­land from of­fice in 2004 and landed him in fed­eral prison for a year. In the opin­ion of many crim­i­nal-jus­tice and child-welfare ex­perts, it was a $57 mil­lion boon­dog­gle, al­ready ob­so­lete in its ap­proach to han­dling ju­ve­nile in­mates when it opened in 2001.

On Jan. 1 the state stopped tak­ing new ad­mis­sions to the youth prison and last Thurs­day the last young per­son in­car­cer­ated there left the fa­cil­ity.

The state mod­eled the train­ing school af­ter an Ohio fa­cil­ity, which that state ended up aban­don­ing in 2009 as in­ef­fec­tive. Lo­cated on 32 acres, its six build­ings sur­rounded a cen­tral court­yard, able to ware­house up to 240 young pris­on­ers. It never reached ca­pac­ity.

By the time it opened, many states were mov­ing to­ward a dif­fer­ent model, us­ing smaller res­i­den­tial fa­cil­i­ties that were found to in­crease the chances of re­form­ing trou­bled young peo­ple be­fore they be­came ca­reer crim­i­nals. Re­cidi­vism at the Con­necti­cut Ju­ve­nile Train­ing School was high, with eight of ev­ery 10 delin­quents housed there fac­ing re-ar­rest within two years of their dis­charge.

In the years since its open­ing, the state has moved to a more com­mu­nity-based sys­tem, with the vast ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple with crim­i­nal records mon­i­tored at home or as­signed to res­i­den­tial, group-home set­tings. Only the most ha­bit­ual of of­fend­ers have been end­ing up in lockup.

Within a few years of its open­ing, Row­land’s suc­ces­sor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, rec­og­nized the train­ing school was a mis­take. But the state had in­vested heav­ily to build the fa­cil­ity and had no al­ter­na­tive avail­able for hous­ing se­ri­ous ju­ve­nile crim­i­nals. Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy has also rec­og­nized the fa­cil­ity’s short­com­ings, but faced the same dilemma.

But af­ter a 2015 scan­dal — the Of­fice of the Child Ad­vo­cate re­leased videos show­ing train­ing school staff grab­bing and drag­ging emo­tion­ally dis­traught young de­tainees into their locked cells — law­mak­ers pushed for clo­sure.

As part of the com­pro­mise bud­get bill ap­proved in Oc­to­ber, the leg­is­la­ture or­dered the clo­sure of the train­ing school and, ef­fec­tive July 1, trans­ferred re­spon­si­bil­ity for young peo­ple ad­ju­di­cated as delin­quent from the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, which had op­er­ated the Mid­dle­town fa­cil­ity, to the Ju­di­cial Branch.

The Mal­loy ad­min­is­tra­tion had been mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of mak­ing the Mid­dle­town fa­cil­ity un­nec­es­sary. Crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms pushed by the gover­nor have re­sulted in dras­tic re­duc­tions in youth ar­rests and im­pris­on­ment. In its last two years of oper­a­tion, the pop­u­la­tion at the train­ing school rarely ex­ceeded 50.

Yet it is not clear that the state is ready for the tran­si­tion man­dated by the leg­is­la­ture. The Court Sup­port Ser­vices Divi­sion of the Ju­di­cial Branch is seek­ing pro­pos­als for de­vel­op­ment of sev­eral smaller res­i­den­tial fa­cil­i­ties, each with 10-12 beds, which will serve as the al­ter­na­tive to the closed train­ing school.

Un­de­ter­mined is what kind of re­sponse the state will get and whether the leg­is­la­ture has pro­vided the fi­nan­cial sup­port that is nec­es­sary. The bud­get pro­vides $17 mil­lion, but Mal­loy main­tains some of that money is nec­es­sary to con­tinue al­ter­na­tive pro­grams that are keep­ing young peo­ple out of the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem.

Also un­clear is whether the state is ad­e­quately pre­pared dur­ing the tran­si­tion to man­age that small per­cent­age of young of­fend­ers who prove to be in­cor­ri­gi­ble, but whose crimes are not se­ri­ous enough to qual­ify for treat­ment as adult crim­i­nals.

Our sense is that this tran­si­tion to a post-train­ing school model is, if not half-baked, is also not fully baked. The Gen­eral Assem­bly will have to be pre­pared, even in these tight fis­cal times, to pro­vide ad­di­tional re­sources should that prove nec­es­sary.

Dur­ing this pe­riod of un­cer­tainty and tran­si­tion, the Gen­eral Assem­bly has made the right de­ci­sion in opt­ing not to act on a pro­posal to raise the age of ju­ve­nile pro­tec­tion in the court sys­tem from 18 to 21. Some ad­just­ment in the age of ju­ve­nile sta­tus may be in or­der, but not dur­ing the process of al­ter­ing treat­ment and hous­ing for those al­ready in the sys­tem.

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