Trans Teen Girl Remains in Adult Prison Despite Not Being Charged With A Crime

A 16 year-old transgender teenage girl has been locked up in an isolated mental health unit of the York Correctional Institution since April, despite not being charged with any crimes. She was recently moved to another building that the Connecticut Department of Children and Families hopes will better suit her needs. However, advocates for the girl say that the new location isn’t any less isolated and still isn’t a suitable place for her. Additionally, the fact remains that Jane Doe, as she is known because she’s a minor, hasn’t been charged with any crimes, has mental health needs that aren’t being met and has been locked up in an adult prison since last month. Some documents suggest that DCF may even be misleading the press and the public as to their treatment of Doe, and wish to cover up the fact that they tried (and failed) to have Doe transferred to a men’s prison.

Child advocates, civil rights groups and lawyers are still fighting to get her removed from the adult prison that she was placed in and moved to a facility that can provide treatment and rehabilitation for her. “The challenge remains that it’s a correctional compound, and it’s not designed for teenagers with significant mental health needs,” Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said. Connecticut ACLU attorney David Maguire added that “it’s widely recognized that solitary confinement is … particularly dangerous to the psychological health of children. Jane Doe is not an adult. She is not a criminal. She does not belong in prison, let alone in solitary confinement.”

Doe has been under the care of the Department of Children and Families since age five and says that they have a long history of not giving her proper care or protection. Doe, along with attorney Aaron J. Romano, is filing a legal complaint in federal court against the DCF, the state Department of Corrections and both groups’ commissioners. In this complaint, Doe says that under the DCF’s care she was placed in homes where she was victim to abuse, including rape, homelessness, drugging and sexual exploitation. Doe says that this is just the next step in a long and horrible journey with the DCF.

I was placed in DCF custody because my father was incarcerated and my mother was using heroin, crack, alcohol and possibly other drugs. 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.

The girl was placed in prison by a judge in April after the DCF requested that she be locked up due to “violent behavior.” However, as was stated before, she wasn’t charged with any crimes, is only 16 years old and is in need of mental health services, not imprisonment. Doe has said that while locked up at the York Correctional Institution, she can hear the adult inmates “screaming, banging and crying” all night long. Her lawyer says that she’s under lockdown for 22 hours a day and isolated in a “setting where aggression is the norm.” The only positive that she’s reported is that they have provided her with Hormone Replacement Therapy to help her development.

Her lawyer is trying to get a judge to rule that her transfer to an adult prison is unconstitutional. He says that it violates two federal laws, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. They are asking the judge to cancel the original transfer to the adult prison facility and also asking that the DCF “institute programming specific to the treatment and rehabilitation of transgender youth and children, which Doe would be permitted to attend.” The second part of that is key. That programming could ensure that the horrible things happening to Jane Doe won’t happen the next time the DCF doesn’t know how to handle a trans teen under their care.

Gov. Dannel Malloy via

Gov. Dannel Malloy via

Luckily, Doe has some big friends on her side. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has publicly called for her to be moved out of the adult prison and into a facility that will be able to properly help her. he spoke with DCF Commissioner Joette Katz about getting Doe out of prison as quickly as possible. A spokesman for Malloy said that they have “been developing a plan that will assure Jane Doe’s safety as well as the safety of others,” and that they hope “Jane Doe’s transition to a more appropriate setting can be accomplished in a matter of days or weeks, not months, and that she benefits from the treatment and opportunities available to her.”

Both the prison and mental health systems in the United States have a long history of abuse, mistreatment and neglect of trans people, and especially trans women. In many places trans women have to fight just to be placed in women’s prisons and to get necessary medical attention, and they’re often losing those fights. Sometimes the stories get a lot of media attention, like  the story of CeCe McDonald and this one. With this story, it’s a miracle that Doe was placed in a women’s facility and is getting her much-needed HRT. However, this story is still full of tragedy and bafflingly horrible conditions for this trans teen.

CeCe McDonald via GLAAD

CeCe McDonald via GLAAD

It seems clear that putting a 16 year-old trans girl in an isolated prison facility with adults is not a good solution to either her problems or the problems that the DCF is having with her. If she has a long history of being abused and neglected, putting her in a situation where that will almost definitely happen daily isn’t going to help. She needs treatment, she needs people who care about her and she needs to know that people are going to try to help her, not just lock her away. The pressure put on the DCF by Doe and her lawyer and advocates seems to be working, as they said that they are looking into other treatment options and locations for her. However, we need to start seeing permanent solutions, including new laws and changes to existing law, if we want to avoid problems like this in the future. Doe and her lawyers are calling for that, and hopefully they’ll be able to set a precedent that will save the lives of trans people for years to come.

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Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 572 articles for us.


    • Agreed. I was trying to get to the bottom of how she wound up there in the first place, and she has been failed by the child protection system since she entered it.

  1. This terrible news, I am at working in tears reading this. If she isn’t being charged with anything, WHY THE FUCK IS SHE IN JAIL? Why not give her medical attention for her the so called “violent behavior” instead of jail. Are they at least allowing her to get her hormones?

    • She wound up in jail because she had been in a juvenile detention center for mental health issues and allegedly had repeated violent incidents with facility staff members. They felt they couldn’t control her, apparently, although I question whether there was any due process for this young woman at all.

      She has been been in the child protection system since she was a child and repeatedly abused and neglected by foster parents.

      Her story breaks my heart.

    • Yes, it was mentioned that they are allowing hormone replacement therapy.
      Just that and the fact they put her in a women’s prison blows my mind. It’s DCS, for crying out loud. They cut ALL the corners they can and they give no fucks about kids. Usually, the only medicine they dole out to kids (and they dole out heaps of these) are anti-psychotics. Honestly, I have to give them props for that. They have, though, been losing lawsuits from former foster kids so maybe they were fearing a big ol’ lawsuit if they went with a men’s prison and something happened.

  2. I’m in Ireland and this is a huge problem for us here too (not necesarily the trans issue, I’ve no idea how that works here) but having troubled kids who need secure care and the only place to put them is in some sort of criminal detention facility. Its really terrible :/

  3. Thank you for covering this Mey, I’m really glad to see this story here at AS. Obviously it’s completely heartbreaking. Basically it seems this girl has been treated with violence and abuse since her youth, by a system that just doesn’t seem to know how else to deal with her. It’s horrifying to see them add on to all of that now by putting her through the trauma of solitary confinement; it makes me want to scream “don’t you realize you’re just making the situation worse?!” but of course, they don’t care. They don’t want to find a solution, they just want to lock her away some where and forget about her, because they don’t fucking care. It’s really just disgusting is what it is.

  4. Having worked for Child Protective Services (once bringing kids to stay the night in our office because we had no home to bring them to) I can say this is part of a massive problem with our Children’s Administration in this country. This is absolutely not acceptable to put a young woman with mental illness who has a history of abuse (while in the state’s “care”)in a correctional facility. Unfortunately, we do it every single day.

  5. This is actually pretty common for foster kids, if they’ve been disrupted from multiple foster homes/group homes/RTCs and have behavioral problems, moreso for boys, and it stems a lot from the fact that children’s services has a serious shortage of qualified foster homes, and an even bigger shortage of experienced foster homes that can deal with kids with severe behavioral problems.
    As a former foster kid who was put in an RTC (there were girls from my RTC that went to juvie if they under 16 or so and jail if they were over 16 or so after they got kicked out of the RTC), I can safely say that DCS is fucked up and that isn’t an isolated case, not even a little bit. Happens alllll the time.

    • You can also look at it this way:
      for every hundred or so foster homes, half or so want to take a kid of color, fifteen of those want to take a teenager of color, maybe seven of those want to take a teenager of color with a history of behavioral problems, and approximately one of those wants to a transgender teenager of color with a history of behavioral problems.
      RTCs are overfilled, and so are juvies. So DCS is sort of in a bind as to where to put kids. What really needs to happen is more funding needs to go to recruiting more homes, educating more of the existing and new homes, and revamping RTCs and the system in general so fewer kids end up in RTCs.
      Sorry, obviously I have a lot of feelings about this given my history as a foster kid. I really want to eventually foster.

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