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middletown press: child advocates decry idea of housing migrant children at former ct detention facility as ‘step backward’

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Child advocates decry idea of housing migrant children at former CT detention facility as ‘step backward’

By Cassandra Day | via Middletown Press

April 13, 2021


Several advocacy groups across the state are criticizing the Lamont administration’s perceived interest in the state’s former juvenile detention center as a location for housing unaccompanied migrant youth, with one saying it would be a “warehousing of children in cages.”

Gov. Ned Lamont has said a recent visit to the formerly state-run Connecticut Juvenile Training School, at 1225 River Road, Middletown, was made at the request of Vice President Kamala Harris during her March 26 visit to New Haven.

The state’s beleaguered facility for incarcerated male youths under the charge of the Department of Children and Families closed in April 2018.

“No decision has been made at all, and nothing is imminent,” Lamont’s Communications Director Max Reiss said April 7, which he reaffirmed Tuesday.

But several groups are critical of the idea, as well as the possibility of using the former training school site.

“We denounce the opening of the Middletown detention center for unaccompanied children/youth that the Lamont administration is doing irresponsibility and without accountability of the immigrant community,” Make the Road Connecticut said in a statement. The organization advocates for immigrant and other rights.

“CJTS was closed for many reasons, one of the most significant being it was not built to care for, support, or heal youth — especially youth already going through such significant trauma,” Connecticut Justice Alliance Executive Director Christina Quaranta said in a statement. The organization’s mission is to end the criminalization of youth.

“Even if all evidence that CJTS is a maximum security, hardware secure facility is removed, it still remains a large, cinder-block building, with inadequate living space for young people,” said Quaranta, asking that many individuals be included in any future discussions.

“Lamont’s team needs to bring together a group of culturally, linguistically, subject matter competent, non-governmental folks to look at this issue. Individuals who have experience working with and caring for children who are refugees or unaccompanied minors must be at the table with decision-making power,” Quaranta said.

Stop Solitary CT, a program of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, also said in a statement it firmly opposes the idea. “At CJTS, youth were forcibly restrained and left alone in solitary,” the agency said.

Its mission is to end the use of solitary confinement statewide and replace isolation with humane, safe, and effective alternatives, according to its website. “Stop Solitary CT firmly opposes warehousing children in cages — whether at the border or in Connecticut,” the statement said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Stop Solitary CT has been “advocating for the release of all inmates in Connecticut, saying you couldn’t keep them safe in prison and had to let them all go free,” Reiss said Tuesday.

“The Lamont administration is trying to do the right thing, and make sure that kids have an adequate, safe, humane and supported experience in our state in the event the federal government asks for assistance,” Reiss said.

Lamont’s top officials, including DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Melissa McCaw and Chief of Staff Paul Mounds Jr. toured the facilities, his communications chief said.

Reiss paraphrased what Dorantes told reporters last week: “People care for kids. Facilities don’t care for kids.”

“It’s been critical for us from the start to make sure that these kids have access to high-quality education, mental health care, general health care, and proper outdoor space so they can have a comfortable transition in the event of the need arising,” Reiss said.

The governor said last week that CJTS has “capacity for a few hundred kids depending on how the feds would want to arrange the cots and beds, so I think that’s a good starting number.”

“Ultimately, there can be no long-term solution until we tackle the underlying issues,” Quaranta said. “Connecticut must hold the Biden Administration responsible for addressing the policies that force families to make an impossible decision at our border — go back to a location that is unsafe or leave their children behind.”

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative, a program of No Kids in Prison, reacted to the Biden-Harris administration’s call to governors to consider placing these children in facilities in their states.

“Youth prisons and juvenile detention centers are no place for children, and, while we appreciate the Biden/Harris administration’s instinct to support migrant kids, incarcerating them is the totally wrong approach and is, in fact, a reckless and inhumane alternative to addressing the challenges at the southern border,” Ryan said in a statement.

“Reopening closed youth prisons or placing migrant children in youth detention or correctional facilities is a step backward, especially as advocates across the country continue the hard work to close youth prisons once and for all, as reports of abuse and negligence persist,” Ryan said.

The Hartford-based Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice plans a Zoom session on the issue Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. To register, visit

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