According to a 2004 U.S. News & World Report article full of horrifying stories about young people being brutally neglected and abused in state juvenile detention facilities, Texas isn’t alone in its problems. In fact:
Juvenile justice facilities across the nation are in a dangerously advanced state of disarray, with violence an almost everyday occurrence and rehabilitation the exception rather than the rule. Abuse of juvenile inmates by staff is routine. … "Almost every place is experiencing major problems," says criminologist Barry Krisberg, author of a recent scathing report on the California Youth Authority. "There are cycles of abuse, reform, and abuse, and we are in a cycle of abuse."In an unusually happy turn of events, the federal government has stepped up to the plate to intervene on behalf of incarcerated young people. Says U.S. News & World Report:
Juvenile lockups typically are the provinces of states, which either run them or pay millions to private contractors to do the job. But the U.S. Department of Justice has recently begun attacking abuses in juvenile facilities in an aggressive way. The feds have active investigations or are monitoring settled cases in juvenile justice systems in 13 states or separate territories. ... And more cases are on the horizon. "We have a full-court press on this," says R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights. Under a 1980 law, his attorneys have the power to investigate and sue to correct a pattern or practice of unlawful conditions at juvenile facilities. The 1994 federal crime act also allows the department to sue when administrators of juvenile justice systems violate kids' rights. The flurry of suits began during the Clinton administration, but John Ashcroft's Justice Department has more than kept up the pace, doubling the number of new investigations. "No one deserves to be treated this way," says Brad Schlozman, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights.Clearly, the ongoing DOJ investigation into TYC is part and parcel of the overall federal campaign to improve conditions of confinement in state juvenile corrections facilities. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s about time that the feds come to Texas. Allegations about problems at TYC that have recently surfaced in the local media include:
- Vicious and violent attacks on inmates by guards. Attacks at the Evins Regional Justice Center in South Texas reportedly led to baseball-sized swelling when a boy's head was used as a battering ram, and temporary blindness when a guard scraped another boy’s face raw against the concrete. Yet another youth alleges that guards cuffed him and left him outside in the sun for several hours on top of an ant nest, where he was bitten hundreds of times.
- A corrupt complaint and investigation system. Former and current TYC staff claim that they have been asked to change records, lie to inspectors and parents about youth who are injured, and have seen abuse reports and videotapes that document abuse mysteriously disappear
- Lack of responsiveness to family members’ concerns. Parents have testified before the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues about their children being beaten by staff members, their grievances being ignored, and their children's sentences being unduly extended, even when the youth were serving time for less-than-serious crimes.