Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
November 14, 2002
Kristine D. Ragaglia, J.D.
Department of Children and Families
505 Hudson Street
Hartford, CT 06106-7107
Dear Commissioner Ragaglia:
You have asked for a formal opinion concerning the community behavioral health treatment program being developed at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield, CT.
In your letter of November 8, 2002, you state that the Department of Children and Families is in the process of developing community based mental health programs to respond to the behavioral health needs of juveniles in its custody who are involved with the juvenile justice system. As part of this plan, Natchaug Hospital has agreed to develop a sixteen-bed program for fourteen through seventeen-year-old females in the custody of DCF who are in need of mental health treatment. All of these girls would have a DSM IV diagnosis. The population would include but not be limited to girls found to be delinquent and placed in the custody of the Commissioner of Children and Families.
It is our understanding that Natchaug Hospital is in the process of securing the necessary Special Permit and waivers from the Town of Mansfield to develop this project. An issue has been raised whether the proposed expansion at the Hospital for this purpose would constitute a correctional facility. You have asked the definition of correctional facility under the Connecticut General Statutes, and whether the program described at Natchaug Hospital falls within that definition.
For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the applicable definition of a correctional facility is set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1(w) and the proposed facility at Natchaug Hospital does not fall within this definition.
The relevant statute,1 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1 (w) as amended by Public Act 01-20 § 1, provides that a“[c]orrectional institution, state prison, community correctional center or jail means a correctional facility administered by the Commissioner of Correction.” Based on the plain language of the statute, a correctional facility does not include a behavioral health treatment program administered by Natchaug Hospital under contract with the Department of Children and Families, which is not administered by the Commissioner of Correction.
Accordingly, the proposed facility you describe does not fall within the statutory definition of correctional facility as set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1(w).
This conclusion is supported by the legislative history of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1. In 2001, the statute was modified to eliminate the listing of the correctional facilities in the statute. At the time of the 2001 amendment, Representative Lyons explained the legislative intent:
44 Conn. House Proc., pt. 5, 2001 Sess. 1561 (April 25, 2001)(remarks of Rep. Lyons). As Representative Lyons' comments made clear, the intent of the statute was to eliminate the cumbersome listing of the correctional facilities and instead have the definition tied by the common thread of administration by the Commissioner of Corrections. Because the proposed facility at Natchaug will not be administered by the Commissioner of Correction, it does not meet the statutory criteria for a correctional institution under the Connecticut General Statutes.
The anticipated presence of some girls who have been adjudicated delinquent2 by a juvenile proceeding, does not transform a treatment program into a correctional facility. It is our understanding that children committed to DCF with severe mental health issues are often placed in secure psychiatric facilities similar to the proposed residential program at Nachaug Hospital. The placement is not for penal or retributive purposes, but to advance the rehabilitative and treatment goals of DCF and the juvenile justice system. In juvenile cases, the State has a parens patriae interest in preserving and promoting the welfare of the child, which makes a juvenile proceeding fundamentally different from an adult criminal case. In re Jason C., 255 Conn. 565, 576-77 (2001). This distinction between juvenile and criminal matters is highlighted by the central rehabilitative and treatment goals of the juvenile justice system. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-121h; In re Tyvonne, 211 Conn. 151, 160 (1989). As with all children committed to DCF through the juvenile justice arm of the court, the best interests of the child is a guiding principle in placement decisions. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-140(f).
Our conclusion is further supported by case law and an earlier opinion from this Office that have looked to the actual character of the institution to determine whether it is a penal institution. In Appeal of Jesse Bailey, Jr., 158 Conn. 439 (1969), our Supreme Court rejected an argument that the former Cheshire Reformatory was a penal institution. The court instead focused on the "actual character and method of operation" of the institution. Id. at 451. Similarly, this Office has opined that the former Connecticut School for Boys in Meriden was not a penal institution, but an educational and welfare institution, notwithstanding its compulsory and secure nature. Opinions, Conn. Atty. Gen. (February 9, 1950). As we understand the proposed character and method of operation of the facility at Nachaug Hospital, the program will provide a high level of behavioral mental health treatment for girls in a secured facility. This purpose is consistent with rehabilitation and treatment and is clearly not designed for penal purposes.
In sum, we conclude that the proposed program at Natchaug Hospital does not fall within the definition of correctional facility contained in the Connecticut General Statutes.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General
1The Mansfield zoning regulations do not define the term "correctional facility." The regulations direct that "[a]ny questions that arise regarding the regulatory meaning of other words and terms shall be determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission with reference to the Connecticut General Statutes and the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, unabridged version, respectively." Mansfield Zoning Regulations, Article IV, sec. B. p. 7 (rev. to June 30, 2002). The Random House definition of a correctional facility is "a prison, esp. for long-term confinement." Random House Unabridged Dictionary, (2d Ed. 1993).
2We understand that the population of girls referred to this facility may, but need not necessarily include, females who have been adjudicated as delinquents.