From the within the walls of the holding cell at York Correctional Institute in Niantic, Jane Doe cannot see the faces of the hundreds of people that have sent her letters of support in the months since the Justice4Jane activist campaign launched with her transfer from Connecticut Department of Children and Family (DCF) custody to the adult female prison-a move DCF Commissioner Joette Katz says was prompted by an alleged history of “assaultive behavior”-where she has been in solitary confinement for 69 days.
But if you ask Aaron Romano, the attorney representing her, the letters have provided morale support in a place-in an existence-where she has otherwise had none.
“It’s been like nothing she’s ever seen before in her life,” Romano says of the 16-year old transgender youth, whose alleged history of abuse at the hands of DCF personnel, family members, and others, is chronicled in a lengthy affidavit that was released shortly after her transfer. “She’s never had this.”
Romano is standing outside DCF headquarters on Hudson Street in Hartford at around 9 a.m. Monday morning with a group of 20-30 Justice4Jane activists from Connecticut, New York, and Boston. This is the fourth picket the Justice4Jane campaign has held outside this building. The original plan was to fill a court hearing for an injunction filed in an effort to have Doe released, but now her legal team is waiting to see if DCF follows through with the transfer.
Jennifer Lopez, a New York activist from the organization Everything Transgender is handed the megaphone. Her message to Katz:
“The whole world is watching, Katz!” Lopez shouts into the megaphone.
The rest of the demonstrators echo that, and the statement becomes one of the protest’s many chants. But it’s more than just a mantra-Doe has received letters from supporters as far away as South Korea and New Zealand, according to Romano. The world is watching, and it will be watching the situation unfold through this coming Friday, the date that DCF has set for Doe’s transfer from York Correctional to an unspecified facility in Massachusetts.
“She wants to be there,” Romano tells the group. “So if by the end of the week, she’s not in Massachusetts, there are going to be problems for DCF.”
But a delay-if there is one-may not come from DCF. The process to transfer a DCF child to another state is twofold. A Connecticut court has approved the request to send Doe to the Massachusetts facility, but now the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health has to give the go-ahead, Romano said.
“That’s the thing,” he says. “Massachusetts can say ‘no’.”
Although the Massachusetts facility, which is already caring for other transgender youth, would be a more therapeutic environment for Doe, the goal is to eventually have her placed with a foster family, Romano says. While he waits for the final word on the transfer, Romano is asking Doe’s supporters to start thinking beyond his client’s remaining time in the DCF system.
“The letters have been great, but she needs a network,” Romano says. “At the age of 18, her foster family does not get funding anymore, so where is she going to stay? How is she going to feed herself? Unfortunately she hasn’t had the opportunity to move forward in life.”
In her affidavit, Doe details a timeline of abuse that allegedly begins when she is taken from her mother-who was dealing with substance abuse-at the age of 5 and includes incidents of rape and forced prostitution. In a statement released a short time after, she describes dealing with trauma that came from those experiences and the fear that she might be transferred to an adult male prison-a possibility that was put on the table early on and sparked further outrage from her supporters.
In defending her decision to place Doe in York, Katz has alleged that the teen, on “no less than 18 occasions”, assaulted staff members throughout her time with DCF. Katz said that she avoided sending her to a new juvenile girls’ facility in Middletown because it does not have isolation units.
The last time a DCF youth was moved to a Department of Corrections facility was 14 years ago.
“She has been abused and tortured, and DCF has blamed the victim,” Justice4Jane activist Iv Sta says at the rally. “DCF and the state have broken so many promises to this girl, so we need to hold their feet to the fire and make sure Jane gets transferred now.”