By: Kenyatta Muzzani via The Hartford Courant
For 20 years our politicians force-fed us a line that the Connecticut Juvenile Training School was an educational institution when it was actually a prison for kids. The facility closed in 2018 after decades of community organizing and public outcry over the inhumane conditions and abuses children experienced behind its walls.
Despite the documented and notorious history of CJTS, for three years in a row state officials have attempted to reopen the prison. This year is no exception, and on Feb. 15, the state board of education held a public hearing in Middletown to determine whether the former youth prison could serve as a charter school. The only thing that should happen to CJTS is its demolition.
The prison opened in August 2001, a secure facility to detain boys ages 12 to 17 who were committed as “delinquent” by the Department of Children and Families. When the notorious Long Lane youth prison closed, the boys detained there were transferred to CTJS, linking the two facilities. While DCF operated the prison, it employed corrections officers as staff. By November of that year, young people, parents, community members, and state agencies raised significant concerns about the prison and its operations. By 2004, the Office of the Child Advocate released at least three reports on the “frequent and inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion, inadequate suicide prevention measures, and insufficient staff training.” From its inception, CJTS has been a site of perpetual violence for children, their families, and our community at large.
Because of the blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of the boys incarcerated there, family members, community organizers, activists, advocates, lawmakers — and most important, young people — fought for years to close the prison. In 2018, state officials shuttered CJTS, but the prison still stands in Middletown, an ominous reminder.
Despite the long history of atrocities at CJTS, Connecticut officials have repeatedly tried to reopen the prison. In 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris asked Gov. Ned Lamont for space to detain young people migrating into the United States; the governor and others toured the closed prison for that purpose, and community groups immediately opposed the idea. Last year, the Connecticut Judicial Branch considered reopening CJTS as a “therapeutic center” to detain young men as they await trial, a proposal that would have cost over $22 million; that too was immediately opposed by community groups.
Most recently, Capitol Preparatory Middletown Charter School submitted a proposal to the state Board of Education to house their charter school in the former prison for the 2023–2024 academic year. Personally, I find it reprehensible to consider a prison for a school, especially growing up in a community where there were far more investments in detention centers than in schools. Fortunately, Capitol Prep has released a statement rescinding the youth prison in their proposal. But that didn’t stop the board of education from voting favorably to approve Capital Prep’s original proposal for a school in the prison.
Every time Connecticut officials have tried to reopen the prison, residents of Middletown and from across Connecticut have fought against those plans. No child should have to walk the halls of a former prison to receive an education. We know our children are worthy of more.
The Connecticut Juvenile Training School should be demolished. Period. A prison by any other name is still a prison; a fresh coat of paint cannot hide the harm caused there. Anything less is an affront to the people who were incarcerated at CJTS and to their families. Let’s instead invest in our youth so they not only survive, but thrive.
Kenyatta Muzzanni is with the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice.