We published a guest post on Monday from ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio about a crisis in Connecticut social services and imprisonment. Chase wrote about a trans girl failed by a series of institutions from childhood:
Jessica [Note: name has been changed] is a 16 year-old transgender girl. She has been in and out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems since early childhood, surviving unthinkable trauma and demonstrating resilience and strength. As a ward of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), DCF is her legal parent and guardian, responsible for her care and well-being. Jessica was also in the custody of the juvenile justice side of DCF following a delinquency adjudication; she has never been convicted of a crime or faced adult criminal charges in Connecticut. Despite this, DCF is acting directly contrary to federal law and transferring her into the adult prison system without any criminal charges or convictions. It has been 14 years since DCF last invoked this exceptional and legally questionable procedure to transfer a young person into the adult prison system without charges.
Before this transfer Jessica had been “punished” for acting out by a placement in a boys’ facility — even though, as Chase wrote, “DCF had previously agreed that as a girl it would not be safe to house her with boys under any circumstance.” Now she is in isolation 23 hours a day and advocates worry the Department of Corrections (DOC) may transfer her to an adult men’s prison. Legal representatives have filed a civil rights complaint in the District Court of Connecticut. The complaint seeks protections and monetary damages for Jessica as well as structural changes, like new programming for trans youth, to ensure that others in the state don’t face a similar nightmare.
In a brutal, heartbreaking statement to the Connecticut district court, Jessica wrote, “I can feel myself growing more and more isolated, frustrated, and feeling alone in my current isolation… I don’t think being placed in isolation or in a male facility would be in my best interest or prepare me to re-enter the community. I need to be given treatment and services specific to my needs. I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. This prison cannot do that for me.”
Importantly, this isn’t a story of prison abuse in a vacuum. Both Jessica and Chase point out the intimate ties between the failure of Connecticut’s DCF and DOC. Jessica begins her court statement with a reminder that we have to look outside prison walls to understand incarceration: “While in DCF custody I have suffered immensely. 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.”
You can support Jessica and trans youth in Connecticut by emailing the DCF commissioner and signing this petition.
Alexandra is an editor for Feministing, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.