Connecticut Trans Teen Ignites Prison Reform Push

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Justice for Jane and allies at 2014 New York City Pride Parade.

Credit: Facebook of Justice for Jane

Justice for Jane and allies at 2014 New York City Pride Parade.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–When a transgender female teen was removed from 78 days in solitary confinement in an adult prison in Connecticut on June 24 her supporters celebrated a break in a case that had received widespread media attention.

“Jane is lucky to have so much public support and we don’t want to lose momentum,” said IV Staklo, an organizer for Justice for Jane, a single-issue advocacy group in Connecticut that formed around the case.

But on July 12 the case took a turn that activists say further shows the mistreatment of young trans people in both juvenile detention centers and prison.

The Latina transgender teen, being called Jane Doe, was sent to a boys’ facility, the Connecticut Juvenile Training Facility, after being accused of assault at a psychiatric center to which she had been released.

“This is an enormous setback for her,” said Staklo. “She feels very unsafe and very scared.”

Connecticut law specifies that transgender inmates should be placed in a facility according to their physical sex, said Staklo. This means that transgender people who have not had sex-reassignment surgery are placed into a prison that conflicts with their gender identity. “This sets a horrible precedent for trans youth being placed into facilities that will traumatize them further,” she said.

Now Doe is being held separately from the male juveniles at the facility.

“I was angry, I was appalled,” said the girl’s attorney Aaron Romano, who was not aware of her transfer to the boys’ facility until an Associated Press reporter notified him. “It demonstrates how the commissioner has interacted with Jane since the inception of this case.”

Justice for Jane is demanding that the state’s Department of Children and Families fire Commissioner Joette Katz, and that an independent investigation be launched, said Staklo, in a recent phone interview.

Commissioner’s Op-Ed

On July 21 a commissioner’s spokesperson declined to comment on the latest development. He referred Women’s eNews to an April 21 commentary–while Doe was still held in the women’s facility–written by the commissioner and published by .

In the essay Katz discusses the violent tendencies of Doe, particularly toward females, and the safety factors that drove her decisions. Regarding her decision to not send Doe to Pueblo, a new program for vulnerable girls, she writes that would have been irresponsible given Doe’s record of targeting females. “Many of the girls in this unit have experienced equally horrible abuse and trauma and must feel safe and protected–not vulnerable to attack–if they are to receive the help they desperately need,” Katz wrote.

A couple of days later, on April 24, the teen published a rejoining essay in that drew more attention to the case. She ends the essay: “I am a girl, with a lot going on in her life. We all make mistakes but I don’t deserve this.”

Justice for Jane is also demanding that the statute that allowed the department to legally place Doe into an adult facility be repealed. makes it legal for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to transfer a minor into any facility administrators find appropriate.

After the teen’s release in June from the York Correctional Facility, the state’s adult women’s prison, she was sent to the Albert J. Solnit Children’s Psychiatric Center in Middletown. But on July 13, after she was accused of assaulting a fellow inmate and staff member, she was transferred to the boy’s delinquent facility.

Transgender rights activist and writer Janet Mock and transgender actress Laverne Cox both are speaking out against what they said was her placement in a wrong-sex facility on Twitter.

Since her transfer to the boy’s facility, Doe’s case has received more attention, said activist Staklo. “The information is spreading like wildfire.”

Staklo said too many transgender youth are placed in juvenile and adult detention systems that mismatch with their gender identity, age, or both.

LGBTQ inmates, especially transgender women and girls, are consistently subjected to prolonged isolation and “abusive cross-gendered searches,” Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney based in New York, said in a recent phone interview.

Higher Risks of Isolation

Strangio said they often suffer violence at the hands of staff and other inmates and are even at risk when held separately. “Isolation puts people in closer contact with staff and leads to more abuse in a private setting.”

Sex-segregated prisons are not designed for gender non-conforming people and are not well equipped to provide the necessary medical services, said Strangio.

Fifteen percent of transgender inmates have experienced sexual assault while incarcerated while 16 percent experienced physical assault, according to the  study, conducted in 2008.

LGBTQ youth are also detained in correction facilities at higher rates. While they make up between 5 percent and 7 percent of the U.S. population, they are between 13 and 15 percent of the prison population, said Judy Yu, associate director of LGBTQ youth issues at the New York Correctional Association, based in New York City, who cited a 2011 study conducted by Dr. Angela Irvine, a lead investigator at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Many LGBTQ youth in the juvenile system are charged with “status offenses,” the term for offenses that can only be committed by minors, such as truancy. Many of these offenses are tied to the difficulties they suffer as a result of their sexual orientation. “A lot of LGBTQ youth skip school because they’re not safe at school,” Yu said.

Homelessness, family rejection and harassment in the foster care system are also factors that lead to the incarceration of LGBTQ youth, finds a 2014 National Center for Transgender Equality .

Harassment, rejection and being placed into the wrong prison are not uncommon experiences for some in the transgender community.

“It’s pretty ingrained in parts of the trans community that the only way to bring legislative change is to stick together in social justice movements and stay militant and not let our voices be drowned out,” said Justice for Jane organizer Al Riccio.

Before Doe’s transfer to the boy’s juvenile facility, the coalition was hopeful that she would be released into the care of a foster or adoptive family, said Staklo, who has received requests from families interested in caring for the teen.

“People are outraged that she had the opportunity to go to a loving home and she went to the worst place possible,” Staklo said.

Since the latest incident, Justice for Jane activists are collecting letters of encouragement and sending them to the teen, added Riccio, in a phone interview. “We encourage people to write letters. Even though she is in a facility, she has contact with people who can provide a good influence,” Riccio said.

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