Juvenile lockups in Texas detain nearly 700 teens who need increased supervision or have committed violent crimes. Although many of these inmates are vulnerable, criticisms of the facilities and the safety of those inside them continue.
In October, the federal government ordered an investigation into the troubled facilities, sparking further concern about conditions.
The U.S. Department of Justice is to examine whether children who are detained in five lockups throughout the state are reasonably protected from “physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation.” The Texas Tribune reported.
The latest announcement follows the arrest of a 29-year-old former staffer at one of the lockups. Devin King was arrested for allegedly touching the breast of an 18-year-old inmate while he worked at a detention center in an incident first reported over the summer.
It’s not the first time staff at the controversial juvenile detention centers have been accused of sexual assault. For over 10 years, TJJD has been criticized over reports of repeated physical and sexual abuse, as well as a lack of overall control.
In 2020, advocacy groups stepped in to urge a federal investigation into conditions at the five facilities. Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas, two legal and justice organizations, filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, citing “grievous violations of children’s constitutional rights” from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
In 2017, the Dallas Morning News highlighted agency reports that stated guards at the Gainesville State School in North Texas were allegedly sexually abusing committed youth.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke slammed conditions at the facilities in the DOJ’s release in October. “Too often children held in juvenile detention facilities are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and deprived of their constitutional rights,” she said, “State officials have a constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable safety for children in these institutions.”
Fewer juveniles are held in lockups than in previous years due to the issues the system faces. In 2007, an abuse scandal with similarities to the one in 2017 prompted the Texas Legislature to implement several reforms. Increasingly, county judges started opting out of committing youth to state-run facilities. The state had 12 juvenile lockups and around 5,000 youth in state custody at that time.