Two years ago, Connecticut’s youth prison was in a boatload of trouble. It was on the verge of closing, promised new Gov. Rell. Ah, not so fast. With CT’s new juvenile jurisdiction law set to go into effect in 2010, the prison may very well get a reprieve.
The $57 million facility, which houses all but the state’s most serious juvenile offenders, is gearing up for a likely increase of its population, and an infusion of about $40 million a year.
Some say that the youth prison’s possible revival has been the result not only of the new law, but also of the power of the unions that represent the 300 employees who staff the place. Others cite a lack of resolve among politicians to shut down a boondoggle, while some point to fiscal and political realities, saying it would cost much more to close the prison and start again elsewhere.
That’s all well and good if the prison is in the same state it was in two years ago. Click on that first link above to be directed to studies about the prison and the awful conditions it existed in. However, things seem to have changed.
The building where the teenage offenders with the worst behavior problems had been housed in drab rooms, with slits for windows, has been converted into a youth center complete with arcade games and an art therapy room. Cinderblock cells once likened to “tiger cages” by Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat from Brooklyn, Conn., who is president pro tempore of the Senate, now have better shelving, desks, bulletin boards and carpet.
“It used to be a hellhole,” said Fred Phillips, a longtime youth services officer at the prison. What is there today, he said, “is a great improvement.”
Jeanne M. Milstein, the child advocate, said the prison, which opened six years ago, has improved enough that in April she agreed to shift the monitor she had installed there for the previous two years to a psychiatric hospital for children nearby.
Better, but still not optimal. After all, these are still kids. There’s still a chance with some of them. Studies have shown that kids that are incarcerated in adult prisons or adult-like prisons have a greater rate of incarceration as adults. We need to rehabilitate and re-integrate. Prisons are useless for that.
Jeanne Milstein still favors closing the Middletown prison and opening smaller institutions for young offenders scattered around the state, so they can stay connected to their communities.
But, she said, “I don’t think there’s the political will right now by the legislature to close it.”
I agree. It’s disappointing, but one step at a time.
For more coverage of Connecticut’s trouble with juveniles and juvenile-related posts and legislation, see these previous posts: