The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that its investigation into Connecticut’s Manson Youth Institution found the state’s Correction Department has been violating the civil rights of incarcerated children.
The investigation stemmed from a 2019 report by the state Office of the Child Advocate and a subsequent follow-up in 2020, which found that among other things, the state was illegally locking up 15 to 17-year-olds who were classified as security risks for up to 23 and a half hours a day with no treatment plans and limited visitation.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said its investigation concluded that the isolation practices and lack of mental health services at the prison “seriously harm children and place them at substantial risk of serious harm.”
The investigation also found that the state Correction Department has failed to provide adequate special education services to children with disabilities.
“When children misbehave, Manson frequently subjects them to harmful periods of isolation, despite evidence that children are uniquely vulnerable to the traumatic and lasting damage isolation causes,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said.
“Our investigation uncovered systemic evidence that children are deprived of the mental health and special education services they need to become productive, successful adults," she continued.
Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said the Correction Department has been making incremental progress in response to her reports, within the restraints of its budgets and departmental policies. But, she said the federal findings should result in a faster and more comprehensive action.
“I think the import and significance of the DOJ’s findings is that reform must be swift; it must be sweeping and it must be meaningful,” she said.
Messages were left seeking comment from the state Department of Correction and the governor’s office.
As of December 1, there were 305 people incarcerated at Manson, including 181 who were classified as Black and 88 who were classified as Hispanic. Just 42 inmates were under 18 years old, according to the Department of Correction. The rest were between 18 and 21 years old.
The Justice Department said it will now enter into talks with the state in an attempt to come to a resolution of the issues, but noted that if an agreement isn’t reached in 49 days, a lawsuit could follow.
Eagan said she hopes the report causes lawmakers and others to look closely at how the state deals with youth, especially Black youth, in the criminal-justice system, and whether this type of prison is an appropriate setting for young people.
“Legal findings are one thing,” she said. “From a public policy standpoint, if the state is housing children in its custody for the purpose of rehabilitating them and keeping the public safe, then that work needs to actually occur.”
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