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DOJ accuses Manson Youth Institution of violating civil rights

Many consider the name Manson Youth Institution somewhat of a misnomer.
Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 7:18 PM EDT
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CHESHIRE, Conn. (WFSB) - Many consider the name Manson Youth Institution somewhat of a misnomer.

The Cheshire prison houses children who have been transferred into the adult criminal court system, along with young adults under 22.

The Department of Justice accused the prison of violating the young inmates’ civil rights.

They said the prison of isolated teens, even when they were compliant.

They also claim the staff failed to provide adequate mental health care, going so far as to say some of their existing services are geared towards adults.

Among some of the most serious claims in the report, Manson offered a little more than an hour of special education services per week. This is drastically less than the roughly 18 hours per week those same kids would get in their home district.

When the Justice Department filed their report in December of 2021, they also sent a letter to Governor Lamont, saying Connecticut had 49 days to fix the problems they found.

Aaron Lichwalla is a corrections officer at Manson Youth Institution.

He said, “there’s been changes all along and there’s been a real lot of changes lately.”

He says many of the problems at the jail were fixed in early 2021, before the Justice Department’s report even came out.

“I think that was in February when they actually came to do the interviews. We started launching a program called ‘ramp and ramp.’ Basically, took away any type of like, isolation, restrictive housing,” said Lichwalla.

He admits that the lack of schooling for the prison’s teens outlined by the DOJ is still a problem.

Lichwalla is encouraged by the governor’s recent recommended budget, which includes $1.7 million to hire 19 more staff members.

“We currently have a population that fluctuates a little over 300 and currently, there’s two to three mental health staff workers working on a shift,” said Lichwalla. “We would like to see mental health stationed right inside the juvenile units full time so any time an immediate assessment is needed, there’s no wait time.”

Connecticut Justice Alliance Executive Director Christina Quaranta isn’t convinced that will help the inmates under the age of 18.

“More training, more staff and more funding to sort out mental health or education is not going to fix that there are children inside of an adult prison,” said Quaranta.

The Connecticut Justice Alliance is a group that advocates for incarcerated youth.

She says the concerns outlined in the Department of Justice report aren’t new.

There are documents from the Office of the Child Advocate that highlight similar problems with mental health and isolating teens two years ago in 2020.

“Not much has changed inside of those walls,” said Quaranta.

Quaranta said she wants to take the teens out of the Department of Correction’s care.

Lichwalla said he fears moving teens from where they’ve developed rapport could increase the risk of fights in a less structured setting.

“They look up to some of us,” said Lichwalla. “I’ve seen it as high as 190 ‘keep separate’ scenarios that we have to manage.”

Where to place teens that have broken serious laws, it’s a question with few answers everyone can agree on.

“We know them pretty well. We work with them every day, like I said, my coworkers and I. And we know what’s important to a lot of them,” said Lichwalla.

“It’s time to let go and let them go to where they’re going to get what they need,” stated Quaranta.