Justice For Jane: An Interview with Supporters of Transgender Teen Incarcerated in CT Prison

Organizers Al Riccio and Iv Staklo discuss 2 protests planned for Friday, April 25th in CT and NYC.

Supporters of “Jane Doe,” the 16-year-old transgender girl of color who has been held in Connecticut’s York Correctional (an adult prison) for over 2 weeks in near-solitary confinement, will rally at 1pm tomorrow, Friday, April 25th, outside the Connecticut Department of Families and Children (DCF) headquarters in Hartford, CT (505 Hudson St., Hartford, CT).

A simultaneous solidarity action will be held outside New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (150 William St., NYC), and will reportedly be attended by former incarcerated trans activist CeCe McDonald.

According to organizers’ press release, Jane Doe — a survivor of numerous instances of violence and abuse, including those allegedly at the hands of DCF staff—was deemed “too violent” by DCF and therefore transferred to the prison without any criminal charges or convictions. She is currently being held in solitary conditions for 22-23 hours per day without access to therapy, education, or contact with peers her own age.

Tomorrow’s actions will make the following demands to change these inhumane conditions:

  • To the DOC: Do not transfer Jane Doe to a male facility.
  • To the DCF Remove Jane immediately from York and place her in a safe, accepting, therapeutic environment. Immediately restore Jane’s access to therapy, educational materials, and regular human interaction.
  • To Connecticut’s General Assembly: Repeal statute 17A—12, which is the statute DCF used to unjustly imprison Jane Doe.

I spoke today with genderqueer organizer Iv Staklo and trans* organizer Al Riccio about the grassroots movement, dubbed “Justice For Jane,” that has grown around Jane Doe’s incarceration.

How are you both involved in a community response to Jane Doe’s incarceration in a high-security adult prison?

Iv Staklo: We are both organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and have a particular interest in queer rights. We heard through the trans and queer community grapevine that this was happening, then saw articles come out about it, then were invited to a public meeting with commissioner Joette Katz by the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.

After hearing Katz blame the victim and refuse to take any responsibility for the abuses perpetrated against her, we decided, along with many students present, that a fightback effort was necessary. Then Aaron Romano, Jane’s lawyer, reached out to us and said that both he and Jane are tremendously in favor of a protest around this case. We’ve been working with him very closely in planning this and making sure everything is happening in a way Jane approves of.

Al Riccio: After I found out about Jane’s incarceration—the fact that Connecticut had imprisoned a 16-year-old transgender girl who hadn’t been convicted of a crime—I immediately shared the news story with fellow activists. I found out about Jane’s case through a Facebook group for transgender people against trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), actually. We were able to contact a lot of people interested in fighting for Jane and then, as Iv said, we were contacted by her lawyer and given a chance to voice our contempt for the way the state and DCF’s commissioner treated her.

Can you tell me a bit more about what happened in that public meeting with Commissioner Katz?

Staklo: Katz spent the first hour of the meeting talking about the bureaucratic difficulties she faces in DCF. She complained about the federal oversight that was in place until recently (because of other abuses by Connecticut’s DCF), how labor unions are an “obstruction” and how people are “too concerned about safety.” She discussed the problems she “inherited” and her alleged efforts to improve the agency. She did not discuss Jane Doe until a student interrupted her and told her that the reason most of the audience was there was to ask about the case.

When asked about Jane, Katz began on the offensive, saying that she had received many emails from Yale law students demanding that Jane not be placed in a male facility and be released from prison altogether. She said the students would be bad lawyers if they had opinions about “things they knew nothing about.” She said that there was never any intention to place Jane in a male facility.

When an ACLU member contested that the potential placement of Jane in Manson (a male facility) was being discussed as the meeting with Katz was going on, Katz backpedaled and said, “Well, yeah, but I never supported that.” She proceeded to tell horror stories about Jane, claiming she is too violent to be housed with other girls. She suggested that Jane had lied in her affidavit (in which she details the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of and in the care of DCF) and lied that Jane’s legal team was denying her therapy.

How did Aaron Romero (Jane Doe’s lawyer) find your group? What input have Jane and he put into organizing a protest?

Staklo: Aaron was interviewed by a journalist who knew us and gave him our contact info after hearing that Aaron would like to see the community take action around the case.

Riccio: Aaron stated that we wanted grassroots community organizing to come out of support of Jane. Public pressure is also one of the factors that could help overturn Katz’s decision and find a safe, rehabilitative placement for Jane that addresses her needs, rather than further harm her in an adult prison.

Jane also released a statement on April 23rd. She said many things and I don’t want to speak for her, but I feel like she wants people to understand who she is and the trauma she’s suffered. And that ties into so much that affects the lives of most transgender people—we bear the brunt of this society’s sexism and it’s not surprise that the suicide attempt rate of trans* people who have suffered sexual abuse is 64%.

So I think, given both Aaron and Jane’s input, it’s important to demand action from the state, AND we need to further people’s awareness about what it’s really like to be trans*. That sexual assault routinely destroys our lives, and rape culture permits people to paint survivors like Jane as liars.

Who is involved in organizing? What actions have been taken?

Riccio: Right now we’re being supported by a number of organizations including Connecticut’s ACLU, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, and the Yale Undergraduate Prison project, to name a few. There are solidarity actions going on in New York City tomorrow in conjunction with ours. We’ll be demonstrating outside the DCF in Hartford, CT headquarters at 1pm.

We’ve also gotten support from transgender activists like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, which is awesome.

Staklo: So far we have been communicating with students from the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, some divinity school students, and other community activists from My Brother’s Keeper (an anti-drug war and anti-incarceration group in New Haven, CT) and the Catholic Worker Movement.

We made the Justice For Jane pages and the #justiceforjane hashtag public, and the action and the pages gained a lot of support from people all over the country. In New York, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Everything Transgender in NYC will be holding a solidarity action, which will be attended by CeCe McDonald.

Tomorrow at 1pm we will have a moving picket line and community speakout outside the DCF headquarters as Jane’s fate is [possibly] being discussed inside. (To be accurate, I’m not sure where exactly the discussion meeting about her will be held, so it might not be in the DCF headquarters).

What form will the New York-based solidarity action take?

Staklo: [I believe] it will be similar to ours—a rally and speakout—outside New York’s Administration for Children’s Services at 150 William St., also at 1pm tomorrow, April 25th, 2014.

How many people are expected to attend?

Staklo: Right now 81 are confirmed as going to the Hartford rally on Facebook, and 42 are “maybe”s. Considering the mass support this case has gotten, we expect a significant crowd.

Riccio: The information is also being sent around to people pretty rapidly and the numbers have been climbing. Usually, we don’t see this kind of jump in numbers for actions in Connecticut unless they’re big, which means there’s going to be a large crowd.

What other forms of community support have you seen?

Riccio: People have been writing op-eds to local papers, including trans* activists from all over the state. And everyone I know in the LGBTQ community here is aware of what’s going on, and we’ve seen all kinds of people—from juvenile justice advocates to trans* teenagers to church organizations—state their public support for Jane. The change.org petition has also been circulated widely.

Staklo: I think that what’s really significant about the community support for this case is the intersectionality that is present in it. A lot of activists have come together from the transgender community, from the anti-mass incarceration scene, and from other political spectrums because of the heinous injustice that’s present in this case.

Many people who have been through DCF themselves have spoken out and confirmed that this case, while unique in its incarceration component, is representative of how DCF treats many of the children in its care—specifically with covering up and ignoring abuse.

Can you talk more about this case as an intersectional issue? How does Jane’s treatment emerge from transphobia, racism, ageism, ableism, etc.?

Riccio: Well, Jane’s situation seems to unfortunately contain all of the above. One of the problems with DCF is that they often criminalize families of color who also don’t have the economic means to take care of their kids. And that’s not their fault; that’s the fault of structural racism and inequality. DCF doesn’t remove kids from rich, white families. You almost never hear about that.

Furthermore, Jane has talked about the abuse she suffered from family members in her affidavit, and this abuse was perpetrated on her because she’s trans, because she’s engaged in presenting as female even though she was wrongly assigned “male” at birth. This, too, is a larger societal issue, where kids are abused by their own families who don’t approve of their queerness. This happens more frequently to gender non-conforming kids, and it happens everywhere.

Because structural abuse and lack of resources to cope with things like trauma, bullying, and sexual assault are rampant, many people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the denigration they’ve suffered. As for the DCF workers who abused Jane—its so easy for adults in positions of power to take advantage of uniquely traumatized kids.

It seems like the system has failed Jane in every sense: they don’t want to understand her as a trans* woman, they don’t want to sympathize with the fact that she can’t help the way she reacts to trauma, and that additional stigma of being a person of color always adds another element of perceived “criminality” in a society that is founded on white supremacy.

What effects do you hope tomorrow’s actions will have?

Riccio: In addition to our demand that Jane is released from prison, given safe and therapeutic placement, and that Connecticut state statute 17A-12 is overturned, we want to bring attention to the repeated failings of the DCF and its victims. Sexual abuse, abuse of queer/trans* children, and the mass incarceration of people of color are just some of the overarching issues that need to enter public consciousness so we can continue fighting against them.

For more information about the April 25th protests, follow the #justiceforjane hashtag and visit:

Hartford Protest Facebook Page

NYC Protest Facebook Page