Some of the complaints in the press release echo those set forth by national ACLU's women's rights project in their report last year proposing reforms aimed at girls housed at TYC. A cursory review of the complaint reveals the crux of ACLU's lawsuit appears to oppose "punitive solitary confinement and routine strip searches," particularly for girls housed the Brownwood unit
a class action lawsuit [filed] today on behalf of five girls – all of whom have histories of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse – held in the Brownwood State School. Brownwood is a “high security” youth prison located in central Texas and operated by the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state’s juvenile corrections agency. The ACLU charges that TYC subjects the girls to unwarranted solitary confinement, routine strip searches and brutal physical force.
“Throwing children into cold, bare solitary confinement cells is profoundly damaging, especially to children who previously have been abused," said Mie Lewis, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The ACLU has closely monitored developments in the Texas Youth Commission over the last year, and although we see some improvements, TYC’s reliance on solitary confinement has to stop.”
The ACLU charges that the treatment the girls have suffered violates their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as international standards protecting children from abuse and prohibiting torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
“We are optimistic that we can meet with the defendants soon and come to an amicable solution,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “It’s in the interests of both the children and TYC to stop these practices.”
Brownwood State School serves as the reception site for all girls committed to TYC custody and nearly all girls in custody in Texas are held there. Brownwood holds approximately 150 girls who have been sent there for offenses ranging from school-related disciplinary infractions to minor property offenses and more serious offenses.
Girls at Brownwood are regularly placed in punitive solitary confinement in oppressively cold, concrete cells, empty except for a metal slab intended to be used as a bed. Solitary confinement is imposed for minor misbehavior, for self-harm or for expressing a desire to commit self-harm. Terms of solitary confinement can be brief or can last for days, weeks and even months.
Upon entering or exiting solitary confinement and on other occasions when they have not left the facility - for example, when they finish a work assignment within the prison - girls are subject to invasive strip searches. When girls resist, guards regularly use physical force, pepper spray, handcuffs and leather straps to force them to comply. These tactics are also used on girls already in solitary confinement in response to self-harm, shouting, and banging on the wall. Girls subjected to this treatment report suffering flashbacks to childhood rapes and feeling degraded, humiliated and afraid.
“The link between psychological trauma and delinquent behavior is well established,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. “Instead of helping girls learn to cope with their experiences, TYC is re-traumatizing them through the use of solitary confinement and strip searches. TYC must do better, for the sake of our clients and all children in the state's custody."
Attorneys on the lawsuit, K.C. et. al v. Nedelkoff et. al, include Lewis and Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Graybill from the ACLU of Texas, Steven M. Watt from the ACLU Human Rights Program and Elizabeth Alexander from the ACLU National Prison Project.
The complaint is available online here.
The motion for class certification and memorandum in support of motion for class certification are available online here.
Perhaps relatedly (?), TYC recently stopped using long-term isolation as part of their "aggression management" program, but ACLU's allegations appear to be aimed at the BMP ("Behavioral Management Program") which is the euphemism used to describe more routine use of solitary confinement on individual campuses.
UPDATE: See initial coverage from the Abilene Reporter News, the Houston Chronicle, AP, and a profile of ACLU's 5 plaintiffs.