Justice Dept. to Investigate Abuses in Texas’ Juvenile Prisons

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Reports of excessive force, sexual misconduct, and segregation and use of pepper spray prompted investigations into the treatment of incarcerated children.

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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Wednesday it was investigating juvenile correctional facilities in Texas over allegations of physical violence, sexual abuse and other abuse of children held there.

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The investigation, which will also investigate state segregation and the use of chemicals such as pepper spray, is part of a broader effort to dismantle the criminal justice system and address conditions in prisons, a goal that has received bipartisan support in recent years. The follow-up was the Obama and Trump administrations before President Biden took office. And it follows other recent Department of Justice investigations into adult correctional facilities in states including Georgia and New Jersey.

“Prison conditions and the conditions inside institutions where young people are detained are a priority issue for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the division, told a news conference.

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“No child who was sent to a Texas facility for treatment and rehabilitation should not be subjected to violence and abuse, nor denied basic services,” she said.

The department opens its investigation into correctional facilities based on public documents, news reports, social media posts and conversations with people involved in local prison systems that reveal brutal violence and sexual abuse, neglect of the mentally ill, and other serious irregularities. Is.

Ms Clarke said the Justice Department’s investigation into five Texas safe juvenile facilities came after at least 11 staff members were arrested and charged with sexually abusing children in their care, with one arrest being the most recent. Like last week. Other staff members allegedly shared pornography with the children and paid them in cash and drugs to attack their peers.

“There are also reports of staff using excessive force on children, including kicking, body slapping, and suffocating children while they are unconscious,” Ms Clarke said. She said there was also an incident last February in which “an employee allegedly sprayed a child with pepper and placed him in complete mechanical restraints, including handcuffs, a belly chain, shackles and a spit mask, And then he was slammed on the body. Bed.”

Ms Clarke said the number of children and teens with serious self-injury in Texas safe facilities in 2019 more than doubled from the previous year, and at least two possible suicides have been reported in recent years.

The Texas Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversees one of the nation’s largest networks of youth correctional facilities, said it would fully cooperate with the investigation.

“We all share the same goals for the youth in our care: protecting them, their effective rehabilitation, and providing the best chance for them to lead productive, fulfilling lives,” said Camille Cain, executive director of the Texas Department of Education. a statement.

While the US Department of Justice and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, have opposed each other on a number of high-profile issues, including the state’s new law banning nearly all abortions, both have closed the state’s juvenile prisons. sought to solve problems with. .

In July, Mr. Abbott Texas Rangers asked, a division of the state’s Department of Public Safety, to investigate allegations of illegal conduct by members of the Juvenile Justice Department staff members with jailed children.

“Child welfare is a bipartisan issue, and that makes it possible to see improvement in a politically divided state,” said Brett M., director of youth justice at Texas Appleseed. Merfish, a criminal justice and legal support group.

Texas Appleseed worked with another group, Disability Rights Texas Grievance That detailed staff-on-youth sexual assault, physical abuse and gang activity at facilities, as well as chronic shortages and inadequate mental health care.

Advocacy groups sent their complaint to the Justice Department one last time, and Ms Murfish said she was encouraged by the investigation and hoped it signaled the beginning of real change.

“This is not a new problem in Texas,” Ms Murfish said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the Northern District of Texas said that many children are already victims when they enter the Texas criminal justice system.

Of the children who reach a campus for girls in their district, 86 percent have already survived domestic violence, parental substance abuse or mental illness, Mr. Meacham said. He said that around 63 per cent of girls are immediately put under suicide watch and over 90 per cent are considered to be at risk of sexual abuse.

“If they come out of confinement after suffering sexual abuse, excessive force or persistent isolation, we cannot expect them to thrive after being released,” Mr Meacham said.

The Justice Department’s investigation will focus on whether there is a pattern or practice of physical or sexual abuse of children in Texas facilities, and whether there is a pattern or practice of harm resulting from excessive use of chemical sanctions such as pepper spray, overuse Is. Isolation or lack of adequate mental health services.

If investigators find evidence of violations, the department may mandate corrections.

Last month the Justice Department launched an investigation into the unconstitutional abuse of prisoners in Georgia, prompted by allegations of violence at facilities across the state and a prison riot that circulated on video and social media.

The Justice Department recently implemented reform plans in state prisons in Virginia and New Jersey.

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