While the case of a 16-year-old transgendered youth who was transferred out of the care of the Department of Children and Families to an adult prison has been in the media spotlight lately, DCF and the youth’s lawyers are quietly discussing a compromise.
The case made national headlines after the troubled youth, who was born a male but identifies as a female, was transferred to the state’s women’s prison, York Correctional Institute on April 8. The case touched a nerve with LGBT and juvenile rights advocates and others, and on Friday a group of about 20 people, called Justice for Jane, demonstrated outside DCF offices in Hartford.
“It’s a travesty,” said the teen’s lawyer, Aaron Romano, of Bloomfield, who said the teen, known as “Jane Doe,” has been in lockdown in the women’s prison for most of the day. “It’s tantamount to solitary.”
On Friday afternoon, DCF issued a statement saying the DCF Commissioner Joette Katz met with “Jane Doe,” and they discussed how DCF can help her find healthier ways to “address the terrible abuse and trauma she has suffered and how important it is that she receives treatment so that she can heal and more forward from those ordeals.”
“In addition, the Commissioner talked to her about continuing efforts with her lawyers and the Department of Corrections to move her to a more therapeutic treatment setting that will benefit her over the long term,” according to the DCF statement.
Though the teen was not arrested, DCF used a rarely used law to transfer the teen from juvenile facilities to the prison. DCF has only done so once before, more than 10 years ago.
DCF said she was too violent to be kept in DCF custody.
While LGBT advocates say that it’s a positive step that she is currently being housed in a prison for women, her lawyers are saying that her imprisonment violates two federal laws, the Prison-Rape Elimination Act, and the Juvenile Delinquent Protection Act.
The lawyers for the teen had asked a judge earlier this month for an order to refrain from sending the teen to Manson Correctional Institution, which is an institution for males 20 and under. That request was dismissed without prejudice.
Meanwhile, the teen has been in lockdown for 22 hours a day, according to a statement from her, released by her lawyer on Thursday. “Now, I am sitting in a room at the end of a hallway in the psych ward at York Correctional Institution. I’m in my room 22 hours a day with a guard staring at me — even when I shower and go to the bathroom. It’s humiliating. Women constantly scream and cry and it was hard to sleep. They moved me down a different hallway where it’s not as crazy. I tell myself that this is just a nightmare, but it doesn’t end. I know that I need to work on my issues and I want to, but this is not the place. I am afraid of the women here. I don’t want to be around them. They yell comments to me and make fun of me when they see me,” the teen said.
Several lawyers interviewed about the case said that DCF has a tough job to balance the concerns of all involved.
Michael Agranoff, a lawyer who helps adult clients who have problems with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, said that when DCF has guardianship of a juvenile, they try to place them with a relative or foster home or a group home. That is what is done in 99 percent of the cases. “Here, there was no facility that was safe,” Agranoff said.
Agranoff said that he isn’t sure what DCF could have done differently here.
“You have to try to help the kid but you also have to protect society,” Agranoff said. “Where to keep the kid and how to best help the kid are two separate problems.”
“The second problem is where to keep the kid for everyone’s safety,” Agranoff said.
One issue DCF faces is how to help the teen, and he acknowledged that resources in that area are very limited. “Sometimes when a person is severely abused, they carry those scars throughout their lives … ,” Agranoff said.
In an April 8 ruling by Senior Judge Burton Kaplan in Bridgeport, he stated that “Jane Doe” is a convicted delinquent, assaulting public safety/emergency personnel in the Bridgeport Juvenile Detention Center while awaiting disposition on charges she led others out of custody. “(Jane Doe) is dangerous to herself or others or cannot be held at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) or any other facility within the State available to DCF. This is the court where (Jane Doe) was originally committed and it has considered (Jane Doe’s) best interest in ruling on this motion to transfer,” Kaplan wrote.
The state Department of Corrections released a statement on the case after the judge’s decision, saying they will prepare to carry out the court order.
“We will do everything in our power to provide a safe, secure and humane environment for this individual, as we would for any other person under our supervision,” said Commissioner James Dzurenda.
A transgender individual is defined as a person whose gender identity and/or internal sense of feeling male or female is different from the person’s assigned sex at birth, according to the DOC statement.
The rarely used law that allowed the transfer to happen was Connecticut General Statutes 17a-12, which states that when “in the opinion of the commissioner, or the commissioner’s designee, a person fourteen years of age or older is dangerous to himself or herself or others or cannot be safely held at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, if a male, or at any other facility within the state available to the Commissioner of Children and Families, the commissioner, or the commissioner’s designee, may request an immediate hearing before the Superior Court on the docket for juvenile matters where such person was originally committed to determine whether such person shall be transferred to the John R. Manson Youth Institution, Cheshire, if a male, or the Connecticut Correctional Institution, Niantic, if a female.”