A transgender teen with a horrific history as a victim of rape, abuse, and trafficking is being held in solitary confinement at an adult prison in Connecticut, yet has still not been formally charged. Still, the state not only failed to protect her, but may have even lied about its mistakes.
VICE News has obtained court documents that show Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Joette Katz may have intentionally mislead the public last month.
In November, the 16-year-old transgender girl known as Jane Doe was deemed a delinquent because of her history of violently fighting with other girls and staff at the facilities where she’d been housed since being taken into DCF custody at the age of 12. In April, after an alleged assault on a staff member, she was transferred at the request of DCF to York Correctional Institution, the adult women’s prison in Niantic.
Children are often sent to adult prisons. According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), kids as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults and over 3,000 children have even been sentenced to life without parole at adult facilities. EJI estimates that, on any given day, around 10,000 children are housed in adult prisons in the US.
In this case, however, the teen’s attorney, Aaron Romano, has filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) and DCF, as well as the commissioners of both agencies. The suit alleges that it’s illegal to transfer custody of the teen to DOC because she has neither been charged with a crime, nor tried as an adult. Doe also filed for a temporary restraining order against both agencies.
Romano told VICE News the case defies the federal Juvenile Justice Delinquency Act, a protective measure that the Center for Children’s Law and Policy says is under attack.
DCF commissioner Katz published an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant called “Teen’s Violent History Left State No Option,” on April 21 to try and quell the outcry.
“Another misperception is that the Department of Children and Families sought to place the transgender youth in the adult facility for males,” Katz said. “Although the pertinent statute governing the transfer suggests that anatomy controls, we worked intensively with the Department of Correction to have her placed at the women’s facility.”
‘I’m in my room 22 hours a day with a guard staring at me — even when I shower and go to the bathroom. It’s humiliating.’
Actually, that’s not the case. According to an April 8 judicial memorandum in the Fairfield superior court, Katz herself filed a motion to have Doe transferred to Manson, an all-male, high security prison for inmates up to age 21.
Senior Judge Burton Kaplan wrote in the memorandum that “the original motion is confusing and contradictory since a female can not be transferred to Manson. The motion was never amended nor was there ever an objection.” Then he recommended Doe be transferred to the women’s prison instead.
VICE News spoke with a communications officer for Katz, who would not comment on discrepancies between Katz’s statements and the document.
The memorandum also states that Doe is to be held in isolation for no more than 72 hours once transferred to York Correctional, the women’s prison. So much for that.
On April 24, Doe sent her own version of events to the Courant through her attorney, as the press is not allowed to see her at the prison. The teen said that she was being held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, and that DCF lied about what got her there. She wrote: “I’m in my room 22 hours a day with a guard staring at me — even when I shower and go to the bathroom. It’s humiliating.”
In her Courant article, Katz also misleadingly wrote that Doe “entered the care of the DCF in 2009, at the age of 12 (not at 5 as advocates claim).” According to Doe’s attorney, her own statements in court, as well as her newspaper article, although Doe wasn’t taken into physical custody until turning 12, she was supervised by DCF starting at age 5. That means DCF caseworkers were assigned to make sure Doe’s home was a safe environment. According to pretty much everyone, it was not.
Court documents obtained by VICE News show that Doe was severely physically, emotionally, and sexually abused, and repeatedly raped from age eight onward. According to the girl’s affidavit, some of those sexual abuse incidents took place at the hands of staff members at Eagleton School in Massachusetts and the DCF facility Connecticut Children’s Place, where Doe lived at the respective ages of 12 and 13.
A spokesman for DCF sent a statement to VICE News saying the department is investigating the allegations and is taking “appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our residents.” Repeated efforts to contact directors at Eagleton School for comment were unsuccessful.
DCF, through comments to the media and Katz’s article, has painted a picture of Doe as a violent and uncontrollable offender they can no longer handle. Katz wrote of “the incident that forced me to this decision” and detailed the staff member’s injuries, including concussion, an eye wound, bites, and bruises.
But Romano told VICE News a very different story from Doe’s perspective: “She got into an incident where she was restrained illegally. You’re talking about someone who’s been physically abused from a very young age and she’s hardwired to defend herself, and this person came up from behind and grabbed her in a bear hug — so she defended herself.”
“First of all, that type of restraint is prohibited by law,” Romano said, “And they should have been more sensitive.”
Beth Hamilton, Director of Prevention and Programs at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, told VICE News that: “The experience of being incarcerated, and being held in isolation, as many trans youth find themselves, has also been linked to triggering past trauma and heightening PTSD.”
“In a recent study, one our of every two trans people reported having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime,” Hamilton said, “The same study also cites that trans people are less likely to have access to resources and are more likely to be discriminated against or experience violence by systems, such as the police, health care professionals, and educators.”
According to Doe herself, she’s been through hell. But, somehow, despite a family life and childhood filled with non-stop trauma, the teen still seems to look toward the future.
“I want people to understand who I am, what my life has been like and how I ended up here,” the teen wrote in her article. “What I have survived would have destroyed most people. I’m not going to let it destroy me. I can’t change what has happened, but I can build a future just like every other 16-year-old.”