The plan to reopen CJTS is wasteful and immoral

It’s hard to imagine a worse issue than child incarceration.

As Governor Ned Lamont and his political opponents try to outdo each other on the issue of juvenile justice, our children get caught in the middle. We cannot go back in time and allow a factory of failure like the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) to arise again.

the Connecticut Justice Alliance (CTJA) is strongly opposed to the reopening of the CJTS, something the governor has toyed with and others have used as sensational, political red meat for personal gain. Our organization’s mission is to end the criminalization of youth. Reopening a closed juvenile detention center to incarcerate children goes against everything CTJA has fought for and what the state of Connecticut has done to transition to a juvenile justice system that provides effective solutions for juvenile offenders.

Christina Quaranta

Instead of debating which building our children should be locked in, our policymakers and politicians should focus on tackling the root causes of crime. Young people deserve close-to-home, rehabilitative, individualized, comprehensive care that is available around the clock.

We recognize and heard in CTJA vision sessions, there are cases where young people have to be removed from their community for some time. For the 15-year-old who commits a egregious crime, we demand that smaller rehabilitation facilities closer to home be used, not prisons with restraining vests.

In late 2021, the Judicial Branch of the Connecticut Legislature submitted an implementation plan, following Public Act 21-174, which required them to “develop an implementation plan to keep any person under the age of 18 safe in the custody of the Judicial.” Branch arrested and detained pending sentencing or injunction on or after January 1, 2023. The plan shall include cost estimates and recommendations for legislation that may be necessary or appropriate for the implementation of such a plan.”

By doing proposed implementation plan, Connecticut would have to spend $22 million upfront to restructure CJTS and approximately $18 million per year to operate it. This is a large amount of funding to strengthen a system that locks up youth and tears families apart. Instead, this funding should be directed to small, rehabilitating, therapeutic spaces focused on education, behavioral health, and support services that youth and families have requested and benefited from have asked. This was supposed to happen when CJTS closed in 2018 and didn’t happen. Connecticut has still not invested in an adequate continuum of care for young people.

If CJTS were reopened as a place for youth detention, most youth there would move further away from their homes, families and community, further excluding them from the types of role models and resources they would need to make a change in their lives . All youth would enter a more punitive environment that is not conducive to healing.

By reopening the CJTS, Connecticut will once again invest only in juvenile incarceration and do nothing to address the root of what brought these young people into the justice system. We need to focus dollars on prevention and front-end distraction. In recent legislatures there have been proposals after proposals to fund diversion system plans at the community level, but none have passed or been fully funded.

If we want a model of how juvenile incarceration plays out, despite the word ‘school’ or ‘therapeutic’ being used to describe the institution, you need look no further than the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire.

Current terms within MYI are regrettable. So much so that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division declared it a violation of the civil rights of the juveniles detained there.

For young people, the legal system is racist even more unfair than for adults. At Manson, more than 80 percent of incarcerated juveniles are either black or brown. This follows the trend we’ve seen in the past when young people are incarcerated or incarcerated in Connecticut.

To meaningfully improve public safety, we must strategically address the root causes of crime, including poverty, structural racism and the unmet needs of children. Until we, as a community, rethink what true safety, justice, and rehabilitation look like, we are left with a penal system that does more harm than good.

Alternative options have proven themselves nationwide, but Connecticut was reluctant to invest in them. At a time when Connecticut has access to over $1 billion in federal aid to combat violence and increase community resources, reopening CJTS is immoral and a waste of money. There are at least 27 states that do not house juveniles in adult prison who are charged as adults. Some of these are New York, Vermont, Washington DC and Maine. Connecticut needs to look at these states to see how they did it.

Connecticut must seize this opportunity to plan what is best for the long-term success of the state’s youth. Retrofitting a jail with shutters sends the wrong message to Connecticut’s youth and the communities from which they come.

By reopening CJTS, Connecticut has decided that a child’s life can be thrown aside and that money wasted in a prison is far better than investing in black and brown communities.

We urge Connecticut decision makers to do the right thing and get our children the help they need, and not play politics with their future by reinvesting in policies that have already proven to fail.

As a state, we must do everything we can to end the criminalization of young people. Lockdown doesn’t work. Investing funds in a closed juvenile prison to make it a nicer building with a new name doesn’t change the fact that it’s a prison. Connecticut’s youth deserve better.

To learn more about how Connecticut could invest in these solutions, visit ctja.org.

Christina Quaranta is Managing Director of CT Justice Alliance (CTJA)a youth-adult public policy and advocacy partnership based in Bridgeport.

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