Written by Alex Leichenger
A transgender 16-year-old in Connecticut spends 22-23 hours per day in de facto solitary confinement at an adult prison, the youth’s affidavit states.
Under a seldom-used Connecticut statute, a judge ordered the transfer of the teenager to an adult correctional facility last week despite the absence of any charges against her. The youth, who identifies as female and has her identity concealed, is being housed in the York Correctional Institution for women despite the possibility she would be placed in an all-male facility. Although not in the official solitary confinement wing at York, the teenager is isolated from interaction.
“She’s essentially in an adult jail, but she has to be kept away from the adult population because she’s not an adult offender,” her attorney, Aaron Romano, told ThinkProgress. “And she has to be kept by law out of sight and sound of any other adult.”
The youth’s affidavit details a litany of abuse and neglect in her upbringing while under the Connecticut Department of Children and Families’ custody. The DCF has been her legal guardian since age five because her father was incarcerated and her mother had extensive issues with heroin, crack and alcohol, the affadavit states.
“I feel that DCF has failed to protect me from harm and I am now thrown into prison because they have refused to help me,” the incarcerated teenager writes.
After being sent away from her mother’s house to her grandmother’s residence, the youth writes that a cousin would coerce her into anal sex that caused her to lose control of her bowels. An uncle routinely beat her, and an aunt allegedly told her, “you’re a boy, what the fuck is wrong with you!” when she caught the child, then 11, wearing her lipstick and dress.
The youth allegedly endured instances of sexual abuse at two juvenile therapeutic facilities to which the DCF transferred her — at the Eagleton School in Massachusetts and Connecticut Children’s Place. Staff members at both facilities forced the girl into performing oral sex on them, the affadavit states.
She was targeted for even more sexual abuse after returning to the care of her mother at age 14. She became addicted to crack and involved in prostitution after moving to an aunt’s home, which landed her in several juvenile detention facilities.
A recent incident in which the youth retaliated to a guard bear-hugging her from behind was the impetus for her placement in the adult detention center, Romano said. The guard suffered a broken jaw and temporary blindness in one eye, according to a statement from the DCF. But Romano argued that his client interpreted the bear-hug as an attack due to her extensive experience with sexual abuse.
The DCF also claims that the youth had established a pattern of assaulting staff members and fellow inmates at Solnit Psychiatric Center in Middletown, Conn. and Bridgeport (Conn.) Juvenile Detention Center. After the conflict in Massachusetts, the teenager was reassigned to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, an all-boys facility. But then she moved again to York, the women’s adult facility.
“The transfer of this youth to the Department of Correction is not in any way related to the youth’s gender identity,” the statement reads. “The transfer order was issued in order to protect other youths and staff — particularly female staff — from a person who has demonstrated over time a pattern of violence that targets females and, most recently, seriously injured a woman.”
But the teenager’s legal team, which includes a state-appointed public defender, James Connolly, and Romano, a federal attorney, is trying to prevent the transfer to an all-male facility. The youth is receiving female hormone treatment that would make her easily distinguishable in a male detention setting. Placement there would not only contradict her gender identity but put her at increased risk of sexual assault.
The attorneys are also challenging the constitutionality of the teenager’s court-ordered transfer to York. Written complaints filed by Romano argue that placing her in an adult prison violates the eighth and fourteenth amendments, plus the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act. Evidence cited in the passage of PREA shows that youth are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than juvenile facilities and 36 times more likely to commit suicide.
Romano believes that the DCF has demonstrated gross negligence in caring for the child and made her vulnerable to even more trauma than she has already experienced.
“Where was DCF when she was being raped?” Romano said. “Where was DCF when she wasn’t going to school? … And now rather to take responsibility and provide their child the services that their child needs, they basically disowned her by putting her in jail.