CT juvenile prison partially closed to stop the spread of COVID

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Manson Youth Institution, located in Cheshire.

Boys and young men at Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire were mostly confined to their cells since November 19 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the state’s children’s lawyer said Thursday.

To reduce the spread of the virus, young people spend most of their time locked in their cells, raising the Defender’s concerns about access to mental health resources, group rehabilitation programs and school education.

“I understand the need for safety protocols, but I remain concerned about the use of so much segregation, solitary confinement,” said Sarah Eagan, the state’s children’s advocate. “There are no rehabilitation groups. There is no school in person.

There were 305 men detained at Manson on December 1 of which 263 are between 18 and 21 years old; 42 were under 18.

Eagan said she was particularly concerned about the low vaccination rate in the juvenile prison. She said only six of the 42 minors currently present have been vaccinated against COVID-19, or about 14%, as well as about 90 young adults, or about 34% of 18 to 21 year olds.

A bit more 5,000 prisoners throughout the correctional system were vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Reluctance to vaccinate at MYI is no different from the reluctance we see in the community. There are people who do not trust the vaccine, believing that it has not been properly checked, and others who believe that they will be fine even if they contract the virus, ”said Karen Martucci, Director of External Affairs of the Ministry of Correction. A declaration. “We have focused on education. Our latest efforts include using trained inmates who are Certified Practical Nurses (CNA) to speak with the population. Peer-to-peer connection has proven to be powerful in similar initiatives.

Martucci said that a difference between the incarcerated population and that of the community is that prisoners are tested every two weeks.

“You won’t see this in the community or in any school system,” Martucci said. “This test regiment is reducing the spread by quickly identifying cases. We know that asymptomatic people spread the virus without knowing it. “

DOC employees continue to lag behind in immunization rates and have the highest rates opting for testing over the vaccine. The agency also has the highest rate of employee breaches of the governor’s immunization mandate.

Martucci said Manson youth facility had moved to a COVID-19 “phase 3 operational plan,” the highest of its three-phase plan to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“With the approval of the Deputy Commissioner, each facility has the ability to move from one phase to the next to increase or decrease activity based on the number of people who test positive for COVID-19,” Martucci said.

Modifying operations within prisons may include providing food in housing units, instead of allowing inmates to eat in mess rooms; reduce available out-of-cell activities to include only showers and phone calls; exchange schoolwork with teachers in housing units instead of going to class for lessons; quickly test workers to ensure that they can continue their work in the kitchen; and providing medical and mental health visits in housing units, unless it is necessary to see a patient in the medical unit.

“It is important to note that this is the first time Manson Youth has moved to phase 3 based on COVID positivity since the onset of the pandemic and we are still looking to downgrade in phases as soon as we can. safely, ”Martucci said. “When the community witnesses an increase in COVID cases, we are likely to see the same. A phased approach to safely managing the pandemic is being used in the state of Connecticut and in communities across the country. While temporary changes are needed at individual locations when we see an increase in numbers, the fact that our positivity rate has remained consistently below that of the community is a good sign that the combination of our operational phases, our clinics vaccination, rigorous testing protocols, cleansing and mask mandates work. The goal here is to keep people safe and healthy.

But defenders remain concerned about the potential negative effects of such prolonged isolation.

“I continue to be gravely concerned because what we know is that the young people there spend the majority of their time in their cells. We are back in a situation where they are essentially de facto placed in solitary confinement due to conditions beyond their control, ”said Marisa Halm, director of the Team Child Youth Justice Project at the Center for Children’s Advocacy.

Over the summer, the state struck a deal with Halm and other lawyers to improve education and mental health services in Manson. An important part of this deal involved understanding that DOC would make WiFi available in the prison and make its “best efforts” to ensure that a local e-learning platform was in place for students of here September 15, 2021.

This did not happen, according to Halm.

“My understanding is that the Wi-Fi capability is established, but there is no learning platform in place,” said Halm. “One of the main things was that there would be some sort of platform in place for virtual learning and some kind of synchronous education to be conducted if the traditional school was not in session.”

This means that students must rely on educational packages to learn while they are kept in their cells to protect them from COVID. Halm said the packages used earlier in the pandemic were not individualized. Because many young people in Manson have learning disabilities, Halm said, giving them a bundle and expecting them to do the job without being able to ask teachers questions or get advice doesn’t work out well.

“It’s not a meaningful learning opportunity,” she said.

Then there is the issue of access to mental health support.

“We are concerned that mental health services are, once again, relegated to these cell-based recordings, as opposed to more meaningful therapy sessions,” said Halm.

Many of Halm’s clients have told him they feel like the mental health professionals who walk through their housing units are only there to do their rounds, not to provide one-on-one support.

“It’s like a flyby, a drive through,” said Halm. “If they’re really struggling, the way they’re allowed to engage just won’t allow for a true therapeutic exchange. “

Manson is one of many state-run collective institutions that house high-risk, high-need people, Eagan said, stressing the need for Connecticut to have an interagency public health group that offers advice. to state agencies. that serve similar populations, “so that they compare lessons learned, public health protocols, disease mitigation strategies that do not rely exclusively on isolation.”

Eagan said this group could share public health education strategies to encourage children, young adults and their parents to get vaccinated in order to maximize vaccination rates in the prison system.

“Our job is to review, investigate if necessary, publish and advocate for children to get what they need, even in the context of a public health crisis,” Eagan said. “A COVID outbreak in a concentrated environment is a public health crisis, I won’t minimize that – and the safety of staff, teachers and young people is very important. But it is extremely important to ensure that this can be done in a way that is consistent with public health expertise and the developmental mental health needs of children. “

A mother with a child incarcerated in Manson told the CT Mirror in an email that she is worried about her son.

“He looks really depressed and defeated. He sleeps a lot. He’s bored, ”the mother said, adding that she considers him lucky because the family can afford a tablet he can watch movies on. “These kids with nothing… literally sitting there doing nothing.”


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