APNewsBreak: CJTS workers file petition

By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / January 18, 2011

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HARTFORD, Conn.—A group of youth service officers at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School informed state officials Tuesday they will submit a petition to their superintendent demanding more leeway in how they can handle violent teenage boys at the secure facility in Middletown.

Signed by more than 20 employees, the petition calls on Department of Children and Families management, who oversee CJTS, to restore tools that the youth service officers can use to control unruly residents, provide additional agency police officers, and improve the cooperation between youth service officers and clinicians when it comes to restraining the teens.

A group of youth service officers recently told The Associated Press there is a constant clash of ideologies over how to handle the residents at CJTS and that youth service officers are being assaulted and injured at a high rate, and have little recourse.

"One group seeks to classify these CJTS offenders as suffering from nature versus nurture and as in need of copious amounts of understanding. Then, the other group insists that the youth are offenders of the law and are in a locked-down facility," wrote Cornell Lewis, a youth service officer, in a letter to his union president that was obtained by the AP.

"There is a need for frank discussion about high rates of injury at CJTS and what the formal designation of this facility is: Disneyland or a youthful offender site," Lewis wrote.

CJTS is the state's only secure treatment facility for boys ages 12-17 who are committed delinquent. William Rosenbeck, superintendent of CJTS, said he is aware of the workers' concerns and has met and will continue to meet with staff and their union.

"Even if a small number of staff feel that way, that's something we have to take a look at," he said.

However, Rosenbeck stressed the facility's mandate is different from the Department of Correction. It's about rehabilitation and preparing the teens for community reintegration, not necessarily punishing them.

"Obviously the Department of Correction is much more into control and confinement and really having the adult offenders to serve their time," he said. "So our mandate is much different than DOC's in that it really is more of a rehabilitative, juvenile services facility and our goal, in a short amount of time, is to get kids back home to their communities."

More than 100 youth service officers work at the CJTS, where more than 118 young males are housed. Rosenbeck said the officers abide by a system known as Safe Crisis Management, which attempts to deescalate situations at the facility by using the least restrictive practices, such as verbal interventions, guiding a youth away from a scene or placing them in different standing or sitting positions.

"They're not adults. They're not grown men," said Rosenbeck, adding how some teens at CJTS are as young as 13 years old. They range in age from about 13 to 17.

Rosenbeck said state law and federal standards require that the youths be dealt with in the least restrictive way possible.

The youth service officers, however, maintain they need the ability to apply more physical restraint in certain situations and want their judgment respected by the clinicians.

"Often the techniques are not sufficient to deescalate situations or prevent injuries to staff," Lewis wrote in his letter to the union. He said there are currently 26 youth service officers out of work on workers compensation claims and that the injury rate is higher than those documented in the prison system or among the state police.

Rosenbeck said he is not familiar with the injury rates at the other agencies. He said the injury rate at CJTS currently is not the highest he has seen or lowest.

Opened in 2001, the training school in Middletown has received its fair share of controversy. A former aide to former Gov. John G. Rowland and a state contractor were sentenced in 2006 to 30 months in prison for their role in a state contracting steering scheme involving the $57 million project. The scandal ultimately lead to Rowland's resignation and his imprisonment for 10 months.

Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell later proposed in 2006 that DCF start planning and acquiring land for new regional treatment centers to replace CJTS. She had called for the facility to be shuttered by 2008. The proposed closure, which came amid allegations of physical and verbal abuse at CJTS, was ultimately not followed.