Connecticut Holds Transgender Girl in Adult Prison

By Aura Bogado Jun 03, 2014

By all accounts, Jane Doe, whose legal guardian is Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), has lived through horrific experiences. Doe is the pseudonym for a 16-year-old transgender girl of color now housed at the York Correctional Facility in Niantic, Conn.–an adult prison. Doe hasn’t been charged with a crime, and isn’t awaiting trial on charges. But she’s incarcerated because DCF claims that it had no other option than to have her moved to an adult prison. The department maintains that Doe has committed numerous assaults against staffers and youth and that her behavior is too dangerous for a juvenile facility.

Because she’s a minor in a very unique case, it’s not easy to find people to talk to about Doe, and Doe herself is barred from speaking with the media. Documents abound but perhaps the most telling is an affidavit in which Doe details her lifetime of abuse. In it, Doe describes the sexual, physical and emotional abuse she’s been subjected to from family members as well as caretakers assigned by the state. She details sexual violence by a cousin from at least the age of 8 as well more sexual abuse at age 12 by a caretaker at a DCF-approved residential facility.

Time and time again, mistreatment of Doe appears to occur because of her transgender identity. When she donned a dress and lipstick, Doe said her aunt physically assaulted her, asking "You’re a boy, what the fuck is wrong  is with you?" According to her affidavit, Doe began working as an escort by age 15. Soon thereafter she and a friend were held captive for three weeks until a man helped them escape. But her nightmare hasn’t ended.

"I feel numb to everything," Doe wrote. "Because I could go missing and no one would care."

The state of Connecticut, meanwhile, claims that it does care about Doe. Yet DCF Commissioner Joette Katz made the unusual decision to petition a court to transfer Doe–who was already being held in a boy’s juvenile detention center–to an adult prison. 

Superior Court Judge Burton A. Kaplan sided with the state, and in a 22-page order agreed that it is in Doe’s best interest to reside in an adult prison facility. The order, however, glosses over the abuse that Doe has sustained, and focuses instead on what the court calls Doe’s "dangerousness." Because Doe cannot have contact with imprisoned adults, she’s been kept separately from those at the prison. 

In a statement to Colorlines, Commissioner Katz says she’s dissatisfied with the situation. "I am not happy with the present arrangement for Jane Doe, who clearly is a victim herself." Katz adds that Doe is not in solitary confinement. "Jane left her room to watch TV, go to the gym and attend school. She has expressly declined to participate in programs with other youths at the facility." Katz says she wants Doe to take part in treatment and education at the prison and hopes to send her to a foster home in the future. 

What the state of Connecticut has shown is that a transgender teenage girl–one it acknowledges has been the victim of abuse–can be placed in a juvenile facility for boys as well as in an adult prison indefinitely, without a criminal charge or conviction. That alone is cause for concern, say her advocates.

"She was receiving worse treatment [than other children who are under the care of DCF] because she’s trans," says Chase Strangio, an ACLU staff attorney who’s visited Doe and has publicly advocated for her. DCF denies punishing Doe for being transgender. But Strangio says "it’s really impossible to imagine that a non-trans girl, as punishment, would be housed with boys." 

And it’s just as remarkable, says Strangio, that Doe is being held in a prison despite a lack of criminal charges. "It’s incredibly uncommon to punish someone with prison without charges–that is something that’s particularly egregious in this case for a young person who has no pending or past criminal conviction."

Strangio adds that although Connecticut does have a rarely-used statute that allows innocent youth to be placed in adult facilities, that statute may violate federal law. For now, Strangio and other advocates want to see Doe released as soon as possible and be housed in a non-restrictive setting.

Unless she’s released, Jane Doe will soon be entering her third month at York. Her affidavit makes it clear that she knows what she wants–and doesn’t want–for herself.

"I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life," she wrote. "This prison cannot do that for me."