Juvenile Justice
4:19 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Transgender Teen Sent to Connecticut Adult Prison

York Correctional Institution in Niantic.
Credit Connecticut Dept. of Correction

For the first time in state prison history, a transgender juvenile is being detained at an adult prison.

"This all boils down to: they don't know what to do with my client."
James Connolly

The juvenile was sent to York Correctional Institution in Niantic on Tuesday after a judge transferred custody of the teen from the state Department of Children and Families.

DCF wouldn't talk about the decision. Instead it issued a statement saying a state law allows the transfer of juvenile delinquents in DCF custody to Corrections when they can't be safely held by the state child welfare agency.

Advocates for the 16-year-old said she's not dangerous, and that a prison setting is not in her best interests, especially when DCF just opened a locked unit for girls in Middletown.

Sarah Eagan, the state Child Advocate, said, “This is a youth that has not been convicted of an adult crime in an adult court that is now being placed in an adult correctional facility. This is a tremendously unusual and concerning action by the state against a 16-year-old."

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz spoke to WNPR's Where We Live last month, right before DCF opened the locked girls unit in the Solnit Center, the former Riverview Hospital.

Katz has described the ten-bed unit as a place for girls with significant issues. "That’s what’s unique about these kids," she said. "They have been the victims of trauma; they have been abused; sexually abused, whatever the circumstances are, and they need that much more of an intensive-based treatment." 

This description fits the teen at York who her attorney said has been in DCF custody for more than half of her life. James Connolly, refutes DCF's claim that his client is dangerous. There was a prior incident in Massachusetts when she fought with staff, but nothing  happened in the last two months when she lived at Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys.

Connolly said he believes there's only one reason DCF gave up custody of his client to Corrections. “I believe this all boils down to: they don’t know what to do with my client," he said. "They are recognizing her as a female, and they refuse to place her at the Solnit facility [in Middletown]. That, I do not understand, because she is certainly not even close to the most assaultive and aggressive resident that DCF has managed before."

Manson Youth Institution is a high security prison for young male offenders.
Credit Connecticut Department of Correction

In the court order, the judge based the transfer of custody on other information including the fact she "committed an assault on a public safety/emergency personnel" while at the Bridgeport Juvenile Detention Center. It also stated DCF had placed her in other female facilities prior to her stay in Massachusetts.

Connolly said the DOC is now assessing whether the transgender teen can stay at York, or if she'll be transferred to the Manson Youth Institution, a prison for males 14 to 20 years old.

Connolly said there are transgender adult inmates in Connecticut prisons. Historically, they are assigned to a facility based on their biological sex only.