Advocates Ask Justice to Investigate Texas Juvenile Facilities

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A group of advocacy organizations has asked the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of  Justice to investigate abuse and deprivation of rights at all 10 of the juvenile facilities operated by the Texas Youth Commission, which was the subject of a sexual abuse scandal and investigation by Justice just three years ago.

Interviews with juvenile clients and information provided by the commission “indicate serious risks to the safety and well being of youth in TYC facilities,” said the letter, which was signed by four organizations: Advocacy, Inc., Texas Appleseed, the National Center for Youth Law and the Center for Public Representation.

“While we have visited many facilities and spoken with  a number of youth, we suspect there are many problems that we may not have uncovered simply because of our limited resources,” the letter continued.

Among the assertions made by the advocates in the letter, which you can read by clicking here:

* Some juveniles at the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center and the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility said they fear constantly for their own safety. From the letter: One youth said, “As soon as you set foot on Al Price, you could feel the tension, you could feel something is going to happen.”  He said that when a new youth comes to Al Price, “he is jumped by everyone.”

* Stories from some juveniles that indicate improper and perhaps unnecessary restraints used by staff on juveniles.

* Limited availability of licensed psychiatrists and clinicians at Corsicana, where some records showed that the psychiatrist was reporting for 17 hours per week. That facility exists to serve juveniles with serious mental health disorders. The shortage of medical staff there makes it likely that there are shortages in the other nine facilities, according to the letter.

* Erratic patterns in the prescription of high-end mental health drugs.

TYC issued a statement saying that it was “taking this letter and the concerns presented in it seriously, and will work to fully investigate any allegations in the letter.”

That statement, however, also suggests some disagreement with the advocates’ claims. Youth assaults involving bodily injuries are down 61 percent from 2009, according to TYC. And since the agency shifted is mental health contracts over to the University of Texas Medical Branch, the statement says, a psychiatrist has been at Corsicana “approximately 30 hours per week.”

TYC is led by Executive Director Cherie Townsend, who took over in August 2008. In 2007, the commission addressed abuse concerns at its Evins Regional Juvenile Center that were so severe that the Civil Rights Division threatened to sue if it and the TYC could not reach an agreement on reform.

Also in 2007, Texas newspapers broke a story about rampant sexual abuse by guards at the West Texas State School. That school and another TYC facility, Victory Field Correctional Academy, are scheduled to close on Aug. 31.