HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's second-highest court ruled Monday that a transgender girl's due process rights were violated last year when she was transferred from the custody of the state's child welfare agency to a state prison — a detention that sparked an outcry from civil liberties advocates.
A panel of the state Appellate Court said in a 3-0 decision that a lower court judge didn't hold the Department of Children and Families to a high-enough standard of proof when the agency presented evidence that the girl was too violent for child welfare agency facilities and had assaulted staff.
The 17-year-old girl, who was born with male reproductive parts, was transferred to the state adult women's prison in Niantic in April of last year, even though there were no criminal charges against her. Two months later, she was transferred to a locked treatment center for girls and later returned to DCF custody at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown.
Her lawyers say she has been traumatized by a history of sexual and physical abuse and neglect. The Department of Children and Families has been involved with her since she was 5. She is in the agency's custody because of child protection and juvenile delinquency proceedings.
The Appellate Court overturned the order transferring the girl's custody from DCF to the Department of Correction, but the judges noted the ruling doesn't offer any remedy because she is no longer in prison. But the court did set an important evidence standard, civil liberties advocates said.
The Appellate Court said the state child welfare agency needs to present "clear and convincing" evidence when it wants to transfer children to the Department of Correction — which rarely happens — instead of the lower "preponderance of evidence" standard used in the transgender girl's case. The court, however, stopped short of requiring evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court also rejected arguments by the girl's lawyers that the state law allowing such transfers is too vague.
"Things got a little better for children in DCF custody today in Connecticut," said Dan Barrett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
A public defender for the girl declined to comment Monday, saying he wanted to meet with her first. The state attorney general's office, which represented DCF in the case, declined to comment, saying officials still were reviewing the ruling.
The girl also has a civil rights lawsuit pending in federal court against state child welfare and prison officials in connection with her imprisonment. The lawsuit said she was traumatized while being held in solitary confinement last year.
The girl, known only as Jane Doe in court proceedings, also alleges in the lawsuit that staff members at the Juvenile Training School repeatedly have referred to her by her male birth name and male pronouns, forced her to wear boys uniforms and banned her from wearing her wig and makeup.
State officials declined to comment on those allegations.