Child Advocate releases graphic video of abuse

September 16, 2015

By Ken Dixon

HARTFORD — Underscoring her call for the closure of the two juvenile detention centers in Middletown, State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan on Tuesday released graphic surveillance videos from a recent investigation that shows children being subdued and abused by staff.

A series of nine videos, showing boys and girls being confronted and overwhelmed by staff, are an emotional addendum to an earlier, scathing report by the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) critical of the jail and educational center run by the state Department of Children and Families.

“The videos allow us to see and hear young people in distress and staff who have not been given the tools or training they need to help,“ said a statement accompanying the video, signed by Eagan and several child advocacy groups. “Indeed, whistleblowers working within the facility alerted OCA to many of the harmful practices seen here.”

The faces of participants are obscured in the videos, which were obtained as part of Eagan’s investigation and released on the Child Advocate’s website.
Text was added to explain what is taking place, such as “Resident was ‘unaware’ that she was on No Access and came out to use the bathroom… Multiple soft escorts failed causing resident to swing in a violent nature.” But the shock of the images needs no explanation: in the first video, the girl who was in the “no access” area was wrestled to the floor and held by five adults as she screams.

Eagan first called for the closure of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and its nearby annex, the Pueblo Girls Unit, in July, after the release of her report that was based on the surveillance video. The investigation was part of a whistleblower complaint.

“Restraint and isolation are the tools of a correctional environment, which can never be an appropriate place for children,” said the joint statement, which was also signed by the Center for Children’s Advocacy, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Keep the Promise Children’s Committee, the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Youth First! and the National Juvenile Justice Network.

Juvenile jails

About 65 boys are currently held in the facility, which was built to house about 250. Fewer than 10 girls are kept in the nearby Pueblo Girls Unit. The children, most of whom from the inner cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury, are ordered there by state courts, after the youngsters run out of social services and other chances to avoid detention. Many are in for petty, but persistent criminal charges including burglary and assault.

The nine videos are available on the Office of the Child Advocate website.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, who has called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, said Tuesday that he saw the videos earlier in the summer and they remain shocking.

“As I watch these videos today I feel the same sense of shock, worry and alarm as I did when I first watched these videos weeks ago,” Fasano said. “This is about protecting kids. The Commissioner knew about these problems yet continued ahead with blinders on. That is unacceptable. Now that the extent of the problem is undeniable, it is my hope that together we will take strong affirmative action to improve the system. These kids deserve better.”

Eagan’s July report found that workers in the maximum-security juvenile jail put troubled children into chokeholds, body-slammed them on concrete floors and neglected them in seclusion to the brink of suicide.

Between June 2014 and February, 2015 there were more than 24 acts of kids attempting the injure themselves. In the 12-month period ending July 1, there were at least 532 cases of physical restraints and 134 incidents where handcuffs or shackles were used on children.

Last month, Katz informed lawmakers of major changes to the detention centers, including closer supervision of confrontations with incarcerated children.

Gary Kleeblatt, spokesman for the DCF, said Tuesday that the agency has developed an action plan; extended the hours that mental-health professionals are on-site; created post-incident studies; and expanded training for all staff.

“The Department is committed to reducing the use of restraint and seclusion to the fullest extent possible,” Kleeblatt said in a statement. “We have already banned the use of prone restraints, limited the use of mechanical restraints and begun more effective use of clinical staff to prevent restraint and seclusion whenever possible consistent with safety. We are now implementing additional comprehensive action steps that will significantly improve the care and treatment of the youth at both the boys and girls programs while also reducing the use of interventions that we all want to avoid.”