Complaints Against Texas’ Juvenile Prisons Include Violence and Sex Abuse

When Ms. Dennis went to check on her son, she discovered that he had taken her car several times and taken money from her purse. She was told by the authorities that in order to “teach her son a lesson,” a juvenile facility was the only option, according to Ms. Dennis, who later regretted her choice.

Ms. Dennis claims her son begged guards to keep him in solitary confinement after the attacks on him escalated. Released in July 2020, months before his 17th birthday, he is now working at a fast food restaurant and pursuing his general equivalency diploma with plans to pursue welding. He will be 18 in July 2020. But he isn’t the same person he was before he was detained, she explained. She said, “He has PTSD.” “When he hears a noise, he freaks out,” says the man.

It was her son’s story that was included in the complaint that was sent to the Department of Justice. Known only by his initials “M.C.”, the complainant described a situation in which “gangs ran the facility” and issued “hits” against children. Theft of food was a common occurrence, he claimed, and officers were forced to use pepper spray to disperse fights among groups of children due to a lack of resources.

When children were transferred to other facilities, the parents were not always informed. When mothers showed up to see their children at Gainesville State School to discover they were no longer there, a veteran volunteer at the school, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorised to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation, said she had seen this happen. She was fired in 2019 after working there for nine years after reporting one such incident, she claimed.

Justice Department civil rights chief Kristen Clarke said the federal investigation would focus on the state’s use of isolation and chemicals such as pepper spray, as well as allegations of physical and sexual violence, sexual abuse, and mistreatment of minors.

Children in Texas detention centres had a much higher rate of sexual victimisation than those in other states, according to the Justice Department’s findings three years ago. While only 7% of children in juvenile detention centres nationwide had reported being abused sexually, the number of complaints at three Texas facilities was significantly higher, the department found.

A Brownwood, Texas, detention centre, for example, reported that 14 percent of the children there had been sexually abused. One in six children were allegedly abused in two other prisons, according to the data.