Protesters rally in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 25 for the release of a transgender girl held in an adult prison without charges.

Story highlights

"Jane Doe," 16, was transferred from a child welfare agency's custody to an adult prison

The agency used a state law to persuade a judge to transfer the girl

The court cited a "history of assaultive behavior while in placement facilities"

"I need to work on my issues ... but this is not the place," teen wrote in an op-ed

CNN  — 

A 16-year-old transgender girl in Connecticut is at the center of controversy after she was transferred to an adult prison, where she has been held for more than a month without criminal charges.

“Jane Doe,” as she is listed in court documents, has been in the York Correctional Facility in Niantic, Connecticut, since April 8, spending the majority of her time there in solitary confinement, her attorney said.

“I tell myself that this is just a nightmare, but it doesn’t end. I know that I need to work on my issues and I want to, but this is not the place,” she wrote in an op-ed published in the Hartford Courant in late April.

She was ordered to the women’s prison after the state Department of Children and Families concluded that she was “dangerous to … herself or others or cannot be safely held,” according to the memorandum of the judge’s decision.

DCF exercised a rarely used state law to persuade a judge to transfer the teen from its custody to the Department of Corrections. The court’s decision cited a “history of assaultive behavior while in placement facilities,” which included at least 11 assaults against her peers and staff during her more than five years in DCF custody.

The option to transfer “Jane Doe” was set in motion by DCF Commissioner Joette Katz after the teen’s latest assault on a female staff worker during an out-of-state stint at a juvenile facility in Massachusetts. The incident left the staffer with a concussion and bite marks, according to reports, though no charges were pressed for the assault.

“Her behavior was more severe than other residents … (and) made her especially dangerous and difficult to secure,” according to testimony by a juvenile detention supervisor.

‘We’re not in Abu Ghraib’

A grassroots movement has been launched for the teen, demanding her release from prison.

“We’re not in Abu Ghraib. We’re in Connecticut, in a constitution state. This is nothing short of human rights abuse,” Aaron Romano, the teen’s attorney, told CNN.

“My client is an emotionally distressed child who has been victimized by people over and over again. She’s not charged with a crime, yet she was locked down in isolation, with a concrete block for her apartment, watched by guards 22 hours a day, even while she showered … isolated from the rest of the world,” Romano said.

This week, the teen was moved to a separate facility within the prison with “a bedroom, private bathroom and a programming/recreation area,” DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said.

Doe’s case has drawn attention statewide and beyond, with her supporters launching protests in New York and outside DCF headquarters in Connecticut. The hashtag #Justice4Jane was trending this month on Twitter.

“I think from the statements the (Connecticut Department of Children and Families) commissioner has made, it’s clear on a fundamental level she does not understand Jane in a sympathetic light. She does not see her as a vulnerable person – she sees her as a monster essentially,” Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & AIDS Project, told CNN.

“You can see they are just using solitary confinement as default placement so they don’t have to figure out questions about where to safely house transgender individuals,” Strangio said. “But we have federal law and we have our constitution that requires that these institutions and agencies take seriously the obligation to keep people safe. Placing people in solitary confinement does not meet that obligation.”

Governor’s support

Despite the controversy surrounding the DCF commissioner’s suggestion to transfer the teen to an adult prison, Katz has received support from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who oversees the agency.

“The governor thinks the commissioner has done phenomenal work to transform an agency that is one of the most difficult in state government,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, told CNN. “No one thinks this is a good option for the teen, and we’re working on a good resolution,” he added.

“I admit that I have acted out and got into fights,” Doe wrote in her op-ed in the Hartford Courant. “I am not saying it was OK, but I have a lot of stuff built up inside me and don’t know how to deal with it at times. They tell me that trauma changes people and makes them act out. Believe me, it does. I haven’t agreed with everything DCF has done, but I thought they were supposed to be on my side,” she wrote.

Romano, Doe’s attorney, says he is suing the state for her release.

“We are looking at other options for Jane that will better meet her treatment needs,” DCF spokesman Kleeblatt said.

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CNN’s Wes Bruer contributed to this report.