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DCF Commissioner Defends Transfer of Transgender Juvenile to York Prison

Chion Wolf
Joette Katz during an earlier visit to WNPR.
"Despite all of the hate mail I’ve received, I would not have done it differently. I think it was the best option the agency had at the time. Until things change, I will continue to feel this way.”
Joette Katz

The Commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families is defending her agency's rare transfer of a 16-year-old transgender girl to Connecticut’s women’s prison. Joette Katz said the state had run out of options for the troubled youth.

Commissioner Katz sat down with WNPR to explain why DCF believes the juvenile should be detained at an adult prison. She said there is no question that the teen has experienced significant trauma.

DCF said the child came into DCF custody in 2009 when she was eleven or 12, not at the age of five, as her attorneys have stated. Katz said that during this time, the juvenile had a long history of assaulting her peers and staff. That’s why the Commissioner agreed late last year to send her to a facility for girls in Massachusetts.

"At the time," Katz said, "I said, I’m running out of options. [The teen] engaged in some of her typical behaviors assaulting youth, grabbing hair, punching; but the one that really was the final straw was the one at the end of January."

That’s when the teen got into a fight with staff. Katz said the teen fractured a staff member’s jaw and temporarily blinded her. The teen’s attorneys said there were only minor injuries, and no charges were filed.

Nevertheless, Katz said it was after this incident that DCF filed a motion to transfer custody to DOC. She acknowledged the criticisms levied against her and the agency. Katz stands by the decision. Listen to her discuss it below:

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

"I wouldn’t have done it differently," Katz said. "Despite all of the hate mail I’ve received, I would not have done it differently. I think it was the best option the agency had at the time. Until things change, I will continue to feel this way.”

Katz said the agency is working with the Department of Correction now to make sure the teen is seen by a DCF social worker three times a week, and is connected to education, recreation, and counseling. "My commitment expires at the end of 18 months," she said. "This young lady is going to have to learn coping skills that don't involve hurting other people. Otherwise, frankly, she's going to find herself back in York, and that's the last thing I want."

Katz refuted the claim by some of the teen’s advocates that she is being singled out because she is a transgender female, and that DCF doesn’t know "what to do with her." Katz said her agency’s goal is to help the juvenile, as long as DCF remains her legal guardian.

Katz doesn’t rule out moving the teen from York when the time is appropriate.

"The court order says to be evaluated at six months," Katz said. "I wouldn’t wait six months. If she got to a point where her behaviors were under control, and I could be confident her dangerous proclivities could not be exhibited around my girls, and my staff, I would welcome her with open arms." 

Critics have said Katz should have placed the teen at the new locked girls unit at the Solnit Center in Middletown. Meanwhile, an attorney for the teen has sued the state, and is requesting the juvenile be moved out of the correctional facility as soon as possible.

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