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Juvenile Runaway Latest To Fall Through Cracks In Conn. Judicial System

Eric Risberg

Earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy from New London ran away from a court-ordered juvenile treatment center. He’s still missing. Juvenile justice workers say he’s not the only kid to fall through the cracks since the state’s prison for boys closed earlier this year.  

Judges used to send boys like the missing 16-year-old to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, or CJTS. That’s a locked facility that the legislature ordered closed in April.

Fran Carino, the state’s juvenile prosecutor, says right now the state has fewer places to send troubled boys.

“Right now we send them to staff-secure facilities that can provide adequate treatment for the kid, but these kids don’t stick around. So no matter how good the facility is, if you can’t keep the kid there to undergo treatment, it’s a waste.”

Lawmakers shut down CJTS after a state investigation found that staff locked kids in solitary confinement while they were in mental distress. So juvenile justice advocates like Bob Francis called for the facility to close. Francis wanted to create smaller treatment centers closer to kids’ homes.

“That was the ideal that we envisioned going into this,” Francis said.

But he says state money used to run CJTS does not seem to have been reinvested in better services for young offenders.

“I think with the reductions that were made by the state of Connecticut and the fact that timing of the closing and having all of the services in place have put people in sort of an awkward position.”

Prosecutors like Carino say more young offenders are being transferred to adult court.

“You know, until there’s some kind of a suitable, secure alternative, prosecutors are going to continue to ask judges to send these kids to the adult court where we know they can be safely and securely held, while they undergo some kind of treatment. May not be the best kind of treatment for the kids but at least we know they’re gonna get the treatment there because they’re not gonna be able to take off.”

Carino says the judicial branch used to decide to transfer about five juvenile offenders to adult court in a year. In the last 12 months, 21 juveniles have been transferred.

Francis says that’s not a huge increase, but it’s a step in the wrong direction.

“I hate the idea of young people now going to the adult system and being locked up at either Manson or in another adult facility. That’s definitely not what we wanted out of this process.”

The judicial branch has not been able to find a private company to open a smaller, locked facility. Four months after CJTS closed, it’s still asking for bids.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.