Connecticut considering housing migrant children stranded at Texas border in former juvenile training school in Middletown

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Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant
·3 min read
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Gov. Ned Lamont is considering whether to house migrant children from the Texas border at a state facility in Middletown, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Lamont took a tour last week of the now-closed Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a controversial juvenile jail that was opened by Gov. John G. Rowland in 2001 and closed in 2018 by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The $57 million, highly secure facility housed troubled juveniles at a 24-hour complex that has classrooms, food service, medical facilities, and space for student recreation.

Lamont’s chief spokesman, Max Reiss, stressed that no final decisions have been made on whether the unaccompanied children might be coming to Connecticut.

“Everything happening here is preliminary,’' Reiss said.

“The state of Connecticut, like states around the country, has been reviewing options for weeks to provide for the safe, secure, compassionate, humane, and adequate care of migrant children potentially traveling to our state, if the need arises,’' Reiss said. “The Lamont administration will only move forward so long as any accommodations are consistent with Connecticut’s standard of care for all children.’'

Lamont took the tour last week with First Lady Annie Lamont, state budget director Melissa McCaw, chief of staff Paul Mounds, Jr., and Department of Children and Families commissioner Vannessa Dorantes.

Middletown is the only site that has been toured, and Reiss declined to say if other sites are under consideration.

The move by Lamont is a preemptive step in case Connecticut is asked to help by President Joe Biden. A fellow Democrat, Lamont is a close ally of Biden and supported him when Biden was performing poorly in the early presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Biden administration is facing a growing immigration crisis and has kept children at detention centers such as one in Donna, Texas that is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. More than 4,000 children have been kept in an overcrowded tent at times under conditions that have been sharply criticized.

In 2014, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy rejected a request from the federal government that would have used the underutilized, sprawling, 1,600-acre Southbury Training School complex to shelter as many as 2,000 migrant children from Central America. Malloy was criticized at the time by some who believed that the state should help children and the federal government during an international crisis.

Before it closed the Middletown facility handled about 250 male youths who came into the system through DCF. Officials said they suffered from issues such as substance abuse, mental illness, trauma, dysfunctional families and chronic truancy. They would often stay in Middletown for six months before being transferred to specialized programs.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy recently toured the border to get a first-hand look at the conditions and said he would not want his own children to be at any of the detention facilities where children are jammed into a room with mattresses only inches apart.

“I don’t think there’s any good answer,’' Murphy said. “If you don’t allow the kids in, then you’re leaving them for dead in Northern Mexico. If you’re allowing the kids and their parents in, then you’re perhaps creating a capacity issue that we simply couldn’t deal with at the border.’'

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com