Transgender teen spends five weeks in solitary at an adult prison -- without being charged

"I can feel myself growing more and more isolated ... I need to be given treatment ... This prison cannot do that"

Published May 23, 2014 7:48PM (EDT)

A 16-year-old transgender girl was held in solitary confinement at an adult prison in Connecticut for five weeks, despite the fact that she is a juvenile, is not serving a prison sentence and there are no actual charges against her. The distressing chain of events that led to her eventual detention at an adult facility paint a shameful portrait of our badly broken juvenile care and juvenile justice systems, and our culture's general disregard for the lives and safety of trans people.

Reporting for Mother Jones, Shane Bauer tells Jane Doe's story in harrowing detail. But Doe has also been telling her own story since she found herself detained in the Connecticut prison. In a letter to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Molloy, Doe wrote, "I feel forgotten and thrown away. As you probably know, these feeling are not new for me. This is the way my life has been going since I was a little kid." As Bauer reports, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families became Jane Doe's legal guardian when she was 11 years old. Her father was incarcerated, her mother faced an ongoing struggle with substance abuse and Doe says the relatives entrusted with her care were physically and sexually abusive to her.

Jane Doe ended up in an adult prison after allegedly attacking a staff member at the juvenile facility where she was serving a sentence for assault. According to Doe's lawyer, the incident was a trauma response from a survivor of lifelong sexual abuse. Doe allegedly attacked a female staffer after being restrained from behind by another male staffer. "This is a girl who has been sexually abused," Aaron Romano told Mother Jones. "She is inclined to interpret actions with that view."

"We don't have a good sense of where our system has its strengths and weaknesses," Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, told Mother Jones, commenting on Doe's case. Inadequate mental health and trauma support resources for trans youth and survivors of physical and sexual abuse only compound the problem.

Doe understands this better than anyone. In a court document she submitted about the conditions of her detention she wrote, “I can feel myself growing more and more isolated, frustrated, and feeling alone in my current isolation. I need to be given treatment and services specific to my needs. I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. This prison cannot do that for me.”

But the state of Connecticut says it doesn't have a facility or program to give her the specific treatment and care that she needs, so it will allow her languish in isolation at an adult prison.

As Bauer reports, in the last week Doe has been moved out of solitary, but remains at the adult facility -- still not serving a sentence, still without charges -- devoid of contact with others and without any end in site. In her letter to Malloy, Doe said she would never let something like what's happening to her happen to another person. "If I was in charge I wouldn't let this happen," she wrote. "If you're the Governor then you are in charge of everyone who works for the state [...] Don’t forget about me. I can’t take another month of this."


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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