Justice Department launches investigation into physical, sex abuse in Texas’ juvenile facilities

By Nataly Keomoungkhoun

DALLAS — The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the four U.S. attorneys in Texas announced Wednesday afternoon a civil rights investigation focused on the practice of physical or sexual abuse in five of the state’s juvenile lockups.

The investigation will also look into whether there is a pattern of abuse as a result of excessive use of chemical restraints and isolation, or lack of mental health services, said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“All too often children in correctional facilities — like those at issue here — are abused, mistreated and deprived of essential services,” Clarke said during a virtual news conference. “And because they are children still growing and developing, they are uniquely vulnerable to harm and abuse inside these institutions.”

Two of the correctional facilities for juveniles are located within the Western District of Texas, represented by U.S. Attorney Ashley Hoff; Evins Regional Juvenile Center, represented by acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery of the Southern District of Texas; Gainesville State School, represented by acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas Ganjei of the Eastern District of Texas; and Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex, represented by acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham for the Northern District of Texas.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department could not be immediately reached for comment.

Children of color are disproportionately affected within these institutions, Clarke said, and in Texas, Black children are more than five times more likely to be incarcerated than white children.

In the last few years, at least 11 facility staff members have been arrested on charges of abusing children in their care, Clarke said. Other reports of abuse include staff members allegedly paying children with cash or drugs to assault other children within the facilities, reports of staff sharing pornographic material with children, and excessive force on children.

Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas, two justice and legal organizations, filed a complaint in October 2020 with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice citing that children within the state’s juvenile facilities were facing widespread sexual assault and other constitutional violations.

The complaint noted that while an estimated 7% of those in youth lockups across the country reported sexual victimization in 2018, in some of the Texas facilities the rates were significantly higher.

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that children who end up in secure correctional facilities are safe and provided with the services, care and protection that the Constitution and federal law require,” Clarke said.

The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

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