Now that Governor Dannel Malloy has pegged July 1, 2018 as the deadline to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, the state Department of Children and Families must come up with a plan on how to do it and still serve delinquent youth in its custody.
Part of the department's process to develop the plan is meeting with stakeholders. On Wednesday, almost three dozen people from community groups and staff from programs that serve juvenile offenders, gathered at Parker Memorial Community Center in Hartford. They were there to bend the ear of DCF Deputy Commissioner Fernando Muñiz, who is leading efforts to not only come up with the closure plan but to create alternative programs.
"What we’re looking for is a physical location that can be split in two, so that there’s a secure portion and then a non-secure, intensively staffed residential portion, so we can separate out youth at different risk levels," Muñiz said.
On its website, DCF said its plan will include alternatives to incarceration that include congregate care settings and building smaller, secure facilities in communities, which could be re-purposed state property.
Some concerns from the audience were just how the state plans on reinvesting the money that's saved from closing the training school in Middletown back into the community. It costs Connecticut $54 million a year to run the facility.
Ann Smith is a member of AFCAMP, African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities.
“We have to make sure that those dollars don’t just get caught up in the General Fund. No matter how good the plan is, if those savings aren’t reinvested in community based services, then your level of success in your plan will be compromised,” Smith said.
Muñiz admitted that it will be a challenge. He said staff reductions are on the table, but that it will be up to the legislature and the administration to compromise on ways to keep the money in communities.
“The majority of spending at CJTS is for staff salaries, and we need approval to move any of those dollars into services. That’s not something an executive branch can do on our own, but we can certainly recommend it,” Muñiz, said.
Another challenge will be to find sites for these smaller secure centers for youth. A plan to close CJTS under Governor Jodi Rell went nowhere one decade ago after communities opposed locating alternatives in their back yard.
Muñiz said the state learned a lesson. “Nobody wants these facilities in their communities so we have to think very thoughtfully about the number of beds we need,” he said.
Muñiz said that before the draft plan is done, meetings will continue with community groups and youth agencies. DCF is also studying other states and programs that exist as alternatives to incarceration.
Currently there are 41 youth at CJTS, down from 140 at the same time last year.