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Investigation Finds Misconduct, Lack of Transparency at Connecticut DCF Facilities

Chion Wolf
Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan in a WNPR file photo.
A report found that DCF declined to investigate several allegations of abuse and neglect at the hands of staff members.

A new report by the state Office of the Child Advocate reveals dangerous safety issues for children incarcerated at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Pueblo Girls Unit.

"What are we trying to accomplish for these youth, and can you really accomplish meaningful treatment, meaningful trauma-informed treatment, in a juvenile prison?" asked Connecticut's Child Advocate Sarah Eagan.

Eagan's office spent 18 months reviewing facility videotapes, incident reports and other records at CJTS and Pueblo, which are both run by the state Department of Children and Families. The Pueblo Girls Unit opened in March 2014, and Eagan first called for an investigation of the facility in September 2014.

Eagan said the OCA report discovered an alarming disconnect between the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile justice system and the actual operation of the two prison-like facilities.

The report found "inappropriate restraints, harmful seclusions, lengthy isolation, abuse and neglect within the programs, inadequate crisis management, inadequate treatment, and heightened risk of suicide," said Eagan.

Between June 2014 and February 2015, there were over two dozen reported incidents of attempted suicide in the facilities; Eagan said these were due in part to the confining nature of the facility. During that same period, the OCA investigation found at least 532 physical restraints and 134 mechanical restraints used on the youth residents.

The report also found that DCF declined to investigate several allegations of abuse and neglect at the hands of staff members. Eagan said that even when an incident was reported, it was handled internally by DCF.

"So if it's reported that someone on staff hit someone in the face, that goes from the DCF facility to the DCF hotline, maybe to the DCF investigative unit, to the DCF legal department, and back to the facility," said Eagan. "It's a completely closed circle."

The OCA made a series of recommendations in the report, including reduction in isolation, audits of suicide prevention protocols, increased training and supervision of support staff, and others.

The recommendations of the OCA are similar to those given by D. Robert Kinscherff, a consultant to the DCF who recently provided an internal report to the organization.

In a statement, DCF said that they have already begun to address the issues cited in the report, and are committed to further improvement.

Nicole Wetsman contributed to this report. 

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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