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2014-05-08

After Abuse Under State Supervision, Transgender Connecticut Teen Held in Solitary Without Charge

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We look at the case of "Jane Doe," a 16-year-old transgender girl of color in Connecticut imprisoned in solitary confinement without any criminal charges. One month ago today, a Superior Court judge ordered her sent to prison after the Connecticut Department of Children and Families requested the transfer, claiming they could not safely care for her. The move is allowed under a rarely used Connecticut statute. To justify sending Jane Doe to prison, DCF cited her alleged history of violent behavior. But in an affidavit to the court, Jane Doe wrote: "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." She goes on to detail how she was repeatedly sexually and physically abused between the ages of eight and 15, at the hands of both relatives and DCF staff, all while she was under DCF’s supervision. Describing her confinement at an adult women’s prison in Niantic, Connecticut, Doe wrote in an op-ed for The Hartford Courant: "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. Women constantly scream and cry and it was hard to sleep. They moved me down a different hallway where it’s not as crazy. I tell myself that this is just a nightmare, but it doesn’t end." We are joined by Jane Doe’s lawyer, Aaron Romano, and Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Imprisoned in solitary confinement without any criminal charges—that’s the plight of a 16-year-old transgender girl of color in Connecticut known as "Jane Doe." One month ago today, a Superior Court judge ordered her to be sent to prison after the Connecticut Department of Children and Families requested the transfer, claiming they couldn’t safely care for her. The move is allowed under a rarely used Connecticut statute. To justify sending Jane Doe to prison, DCF cited her alleged history of violent behavior. But in an affidavit to the court, Jane Doe wrote, quote, "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." She goes on to detail how she was repeatedly sexually and physically abused from the age of eight to 15 at the hands of both relatives and DCF staff, all while she was under the supervision of the DCF.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Doe is being held in an adult women’s prison in Niantic, Connecticut. Last month, she described her experience there in The Hartford Courant, writing, quote, "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. Women constantly scream and cry and it was hard to sleep. They moved me down a different hallway where it’s not as crazy. I tell myself [that] this is just a nightmare, but it doesn’t end."

Well, to talk more about Jane Doe’s case, we’re joined by Aaron Romano, Jane Doe’s lawyer in federal court. He’s speaking to us by audio stream from Hartford, Connecticut. And here in New York we’re joined by Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Aaron Romano. Tell us just where Jane Doe is now and what has happened to her?

AARON ROMANO: So, Jane Doe is in an adult female facility in Connecticut. There’s only one female facility in Connecticut. And because of her status as a juvenile, she has to be separated from any and all—from sight and sound from any and all adults. So she’s in virtual isolation from anyone else in that jail.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why are they—why is the state claiming that they have so much problem being able to handle her?

AARON ROMANO: Well, you covered that a little bit here. She was in DCF supervision from the age of five and sexually abused from the age of eight through 15. So that was about seven years of sexual abuse that she suffered. While she was in a residential treatment facility, through DCF supervision, a staff member aggressively approached her, placed her in an illegal restraint. That staff member was later discharged for that illegal restraint. And she defended herself. After experiencing sexual abuse for close to seven years, a child will have a certain sensitivity to touch or approach and may interpret certain situations from a very defensive perspective. And the staff should have been well aware of that. So in response to that, DCF just wanted to pass the buck on, so to speak, to the Department of Corrections, and they wanted to just dump her on the Department of Corrections and say, "Listen, we don’t want to take care of her anymore. You take care of her."

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Doe is a trans girl. Why was she placed in a male prison?

AARON ROMANO: Well, she’s actually not in a male prison now, but the original intention of the DCF, in their motion, was to place her in a male facility, in full denigration of her status as a trans female. Why they intended on doing that, I don’t know. DCF—DCF’s mandate is to act in the best interest of their children. Knowing full well that she’s a transgender female, to put her in a male facility would just create a condition of, in no certain terms, harm to her.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the issue of DCF or the Department of Children and Families’ responsibilities in this case, given the fact that she claims she was abused while she was under their custody?

AARON ROMANO: Well, that’s curious, because what it does is it brings to light some of the issues that affect DCF agencies across the nation. DCF agencies historically have had some difficulty in dealing with children who suffer from sexual abuse or just abuse generally. There needs to be more funding for DCF agencies, so they can create safe environments for these children if they have to be removed from their families. As we can see here, there’s a lack of facilities that are available for children like Jane.

AMY GOODMAN: In her affidavit to the court, Jane Doe details a litany of sexual abuse that took place under the Department of Children and Families supervision at the hands of relatives and the staff at DCF, starting when she was eight. She wrote, quote, "At about [age] 12 I was placed by DCF at a residential facility ... in Massachusetts, where a worker ... used to show the other children pornographic magazines, and on two occasions I was in his office and he had me perform oral sex on him. At about [age] 13, at Connecticut Children’s Place [a DCF facility], a staff member ... took me off school grounds and took me and another transgender female to the movies and dinner. In the parking lot after dinner, the other transgender female performed oral sex on him and he drove to a more secluded place where we both performed oral sex on him. ... At about age 13, at CCP, another boy who was a resident came into my room at night, placed his hand over my mouth [and then] placed my face into a pillow and anally raped me." She goes on to detail multiple other incidents of sexual violence, including abuse she experienced while working as a sex worker, writing, quote, "I am tortured by these memories." Chase Strangio of the ACLU, talk about what has happened to this young transgender woman, now in prison, in solitary.

CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, I think, unfortunately, what this case shows is it’s a part of a much larger and systemic problem with our—both our criminal and our civil confinement systems, whereby trans people, particularly trans girls and trans women of color, are just placed in solitary confinement as a matter of course. And it’s almost always done ostensibly for their safety, but what we know is that the harms of solitary confinement are absolutely devastating. They’re particularly devastating for young people, whose brains are still developing, who are still growing, and then they’re even more traumatic for people who have a history of trauma, like Jane does. And what we also know from about a decade of comments to the Prison Rape Elimination Act is that trans people, who are almost universally housed in solitary confinement, are more vulnerable to sexual abuse while in solitary, from—usually from officers and other staff.

AMY GOODMAN: And the figures, the statistics are staggering. Among all transgender people, 16 percent have been incarcerated, and among black transgender people, almost half, 47 percent, have been incarcerated?

CHASE STRANGIO: The numbers from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey are indeed staggering. So, these are the drivers of incarceration, disproportionately impact trans women of color, in particular, and then, once incarcerated, the incidents of violence are particularly acute for trans people. In one California study of trans women in a men’s prison there, they found that 59 percent of transgender women in California prisons had been sexually abused. And so now we have a 16-year-old transgender girl, with no criminal charges, held in solitary confinement for 30 days, potentially longer, up to a year, you know, vulnerable to all these harms and getting absolutely no care.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Aaron Romano, what are your next steps in terms of defending your client in the situation that she’s in right now?

AARON ROMANO: Well, we filed a lawsuit in federal court to seek an injunction to prevent Doe’s further incarceration in the adult facility. As you pointed out earlier, DCF, the offenders against Doe, have not been brought to justice. And, in fact, DCF, rather than seeking the arrest and investigation and conviction of those people and having them brought to prison, they’re seeking the victim of sexual abuse being brought to an adult facility. It just shocks the conscience that they would go ahead and do something like this.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Chase, what does the ACLU recommend?

CHASE STRANGIO: I think that there’s a number of things that can be done. We need greater oversight, generally, over our prisons and our jails and our immigration detention facilities, where people are being sexually abused routinely. We need mechanisms for keeping people safe that don’t include locking them in concrete boxes for 22 and 23 hours a day.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’ll continue to follow this case. Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. And thank you very much to Aaron Romano, Jane Doe’s lawyer in federal court, speaking to us from Hartford, Connecticut.

That does it for our show. I’ll be speaking in Stowe, Vermont, on May 17th. Check our website at democracynow.org.

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