Sunday, August 05, 2007

Feds knew about TYC cases and did nothing

Here's a taste from the lede of a must-read Dallas News article today about why the US Justice Department didn't pursue evidence of abuse at Texas youth prisons, "Feds knew about TYC cases":

Federal watchdogs discreetly collected information and discussed fine legal points as the assaults piled up. More than 2,000 allegations of staff abusing inmates were confirmed by the Texas Youth Commission from January 2003 to December 2006.

The Justice Department ultimately declined to prosecute anyone at TYC or do anything to compel agency-wide reforms.

I can't do the details justice, just go read it all. I think any reasonable person would agree that knowledge of such gruesome events by federal investigators who failed to act "amounts to state-sanctioned child abuse," as one attorney declared. We're not only or even mainly talking about sexual abuse. For example:

On Oct. 27, 2004, the nurse manager at Evins told her supervisors: "There are too many injuries resulting from youth restraints [by guards] and altercations." Among the injuries she noted were broken teeth and fractured bones.

Less than a week later, Evins inmates rioted.

Even after that, still it was another two years before anyone in officialdom finally began to pay attention. The sad reality of how much preventable sorrow - both for the kids and those at the agency who legitimately want to help them - reaches more and more profound depths with each new revelation.

Regular readers know I performed opposition research for political candidates in a past life, and there's an old joke about politicians gerrymandered into "safe" districts - that the only scandal that could oust them would be to be found "with a dead girl or a live boy." That's what happened to TYC: Somebody finally got caught with a live boy. Clearly the agency was being mismanaged and massive problems covered up for many years before word finally got out, mostly thanks to Alison Brock a quiet, hard-working advocate whose work is featured prominently in the story. (She was Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner's Chief of Staff during the 80th session.)

The whole nasty mess reminds me of the recent case where it turned out the FBI knew for 30+ years that four innocent men were framed for a murder they didn't commit. The agents knowingly tolerated perjury, did nothing to stop the wrongful convictions, then just let the guys rot in prison for decades, all
to protect an informant.

If you know about a crime as a law enforcement official and fail to stop it, after a while don't you become culpable in its commission? It was their job to be a watchdog. Add the US Department of Justice to the list of watchdogs who knew more than enough to start barking about TYC a long time before they did.


Anonymous said...

This is a very important facet of the story that will probably get some national airplay this week... esp with Congress and the President on vacation.

The DOJ's definitions of "bodily injury" and "cruel and unusual" frankly smack of the administration's parsing of torture.

I had long suspected that the Bush DOJ was reluctant to investigate abuses in Texas, and esp of a situation that Bush did so much to create as governor. But this story includes a few "smoking guns" that demonstrate pretty direct responsibility.

It is an interesting contrast to past practices too. Through much of the history of juvenile correctional facilities, political considerations took place at the local or state level, usually to protect some kind of abusive status quo.

In the 60s and 70s, the feds intervened on behalf of the juveniles, culminating in the Morales case.

Here you have old school small-town machine politics practiced at the federal level, and the result is far from pretty.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Grits, forgot to sign my comments.
Bill Bush, UNLV

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I'm not surprised that the feds sat on it all. Most people just don't give a damn.

Also, FYI

The Backgate Website confirmed information today obtained through a source in Huntsville that stated that at least five current TDCJ wardens will be hired by the new Texas youth Commission's head man, Ed Owens in the next few months. At least one has already left TDCJ employment and is currently in Austin working for the agency in an unknown administrative capacity.

Anonymous said...

You know if that's true, and The Backgate has been reliable, the TYC top managers in Juvenile Corrections will offically be staffed by TDCJ personnel with the exception of Stan D. I see three of them becoming regional directors, and two more in Central Office. That'll do it for veteran TYC Superintendents, who no doubt will begin looking elsewhere if they haven't already. I think the reason they're wanting out of TDC is to avoid having their ass handed to them like ours was handed to us this past session. This is very disturbing news.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Texas' good ole boys in Washington D.C. (yeah you- Bush & Gonzales,) won't be too proud of their home state when this news goes national. Thank you Grits and Dallas Morning News for the great coverage!

Anonymous said...

The only reason that Stan is still there is that they have more things they need to use for him. He will be gone.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, 2:41. I hope he leaves talking, like Howard Hickman.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Brock would like to come and look at the "new and improved" TYC that she helped create - TDCJ hacks in most top positions, transfers of youth to segregation without hearings, changing the preferred restraint method to pepper spray and last, but not least, the use of the special prosecution unit to send the youth to prison -- which is better than the "transfer" to adult prison some think they can do without an adult conviction. I would really prefer the DOJ, at least they know what laws they are ignoring.

Anonymous said...

Grits, do you forward any of these comments to legislators or the Governor's Office? How do we know if they have any idea what's going on?

It seems to me the only way this can be fixed is for Perry to appoint a new conservator, or for the leg to jump of Owens and Pope for their ineffective cronyism.

Anonymous said...

7:04 What makes you think they are not doing exactly what the Guv and the lege wanted them to do?

Anonymous said...


I'm hoping the Guv and the Lege want qualified people to run the agency, not just cronies. The real TYC employees have no respect for them, so it'll be very difficult to get and keep the mandated staffing ratioes.


Anonymous said...

7:04...huh?...appoint a new conservator???? Oh no, Perry's getting just what he wanted...a hostile takeover of TYC by TDCJ. Perry had every intentention of turning TYC over to TDCJ if we only knew why. Why would he place TDCJ people who were already guilty of covering up sh*t into new positions at TYC to replace people had also covered up sh*t.

Hmmmmmmmmm....let's see...Oh, I get it!!SSDD...Same Sh*t, Different Day....seems like I've heard that one before.

Anonymous said...

I think you forgot it was the legislature which forced Perry into placing TYC in Conservatorship.

Anonymous said...

1:06, I stand corrected. You are right; Perry was forced to place TYC under conservatorship. My next question is why didn't he make a better choice when he chose the conservator? Just look where we are right now..up a creek w/o a paddle. I don't know about your facility or if you even work for TYC, but it's getting scary where I work. The kids are running the show, and the correctional staff are either quitting or working 12 hour shifts. I am determined to stick it out, but I don't understand why our Govenor is just sitting on the sidelines watching this agency fall completely apart. I want to believe something good will happen...but the problem is that after six long months, it just continues to get WORSE, and no one, absolutely NO ONE is telling us anything. What we know, and what we learn... we find out right here on this website.

Anonymous said...

What? No clear communication from Bronco Billy?

Anonymous said...

stan likes the gravy thet're servin. He'll stay as long as they spoon it out.