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WSHU's ongoing coverage of issues surrounding Connecticut's Department of Children and Families.

Conn. Child Advocate Finds Urgent Safety Problems At Juvenile Detention Facilities

Connecticut Juvenile Training School
Connecticut Department of Children and Families

Boys and girls in Connecticut's juvenile detention facilities have been subjected to unlawful and repeated use of isolation and restraints, while officials haven't adequately prevented youths from attempting suicide or injuring themselves, according to a report released Wednesday by the state child advocate.

The months-long investigation by Child Advocate Sarah Eagan's office, which was sparked by whistleblower complaints, found what the report called urgent safety problems at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys and the neighboring Pueblo Unit for girls in Middletown, which are both run by the state Department of Children and Families.

"Right now, conditions at CJTS and Pueblo place many youth at risk of physical and emotional harm,'' the report says.

The report found that isolation and restraints were repeatedly used unlawfully, staff didn't adequately prevent suicide attempts and self-injury, and officials did not meet the needs of youths with significant mental health disorders.

One finding by the investigation was that there were at least 225 documented incidents of isolating juveniles for four hours or longer at the two facilities over one six-month period, including nearly 100 lasting eight hours or longer.

The child advocate's office says national standards for juvenile correctional facilities limit isolation to four hours or less.

The findings are similar to ones noted in a recent report by a juvenile justice expert hired by DCF to review the two juvenile facilities.

DCF, in response to the expert's findings, already has pledged to make a number of improvements, including improving suicide prevention training, eliminating unlawful restraint and seclusion, and improving treatment for juveniles with mental health problems, which also are among the recommendation made by the child advocate's office.

"The priority of DCF remains the well-being of the children in our care,'' the agency said in a statement Wednesday. "We have had a great degree of success and have made progress over the last five years, but we know there is still more work to be done to make sure every child in our care gets the service they need.''

The 135-bed Connecticut Juvenile Training School is the state's only secure facility for boys who have been deemed delinquent and committed to DCF. The 12-bed Pueblo Unit is the state's only detention center for delinquent juvenile girls.

The child advocate's office found a total of more than two dozen documented acts of youths trying to injure or kill themselves at the two centers between June 2014 and February 2015. Agency officials believe there are many more self-harming incidents that are not clearly documented.

For the yearlong period ending July 1 of this year, there were at least 532 physical restraints and 134 uses of mechanical restraints such as handcuffs and shackles, the child advocate's office found.

The child advocate's office said state law requires that restraints be used only to prevent immediate or imminent injury to the person or others, but video tapes and incident reports showed that restraints were repeatedly used for behavior management.

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