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DOJ launches investigation into Texas juvenile detention facilities

FILE PHOTO: The Department of Justice seal, in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, April 12, 2018.
Cheriss May/Cheriss May via Reuters Connect
FILE PHOTO: The Department of Justice seal, in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, April 12, 2018.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into five juvenile detention facilities in Texas following reports of abuse and mistreatment.

Federal attorneys from across the state will examine, among other things, if these facilities are protecting youth from sexual and physical abuse by staff and detainees.

“Too often children held in juvenile detention facilities are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and deprived of their constitutional rights,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “State officials have a constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable safety for children in these institutions. The Department of Justice stands ready to protect the rights of children who end up in juvenile facilities and our investigation will ensure that the treatment of these children comports with constitutional standards.”

Texas Youth and disability advocates have asked for federal intervention since October 2020, when they filed a complaint alleging rampant gang activity, chronic understaffing, inadequate mental health care and abuse of youth by staff.

The Justice Department confirmed to TPR that the facilities are the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, Gainesville State School in Gainesville, Giddings State School in Giddings, McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart and Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood.

“No matter who they are — or what they’ve done — our state’s kids deserve safe environments,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham of the Northern District of Texas. “We cannot expect juvenile offenders to thrive later in life if they emerge from confinement traumatized by sexual abuse, excessive force, or incessant isolation.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested state investigators look into the detention centers in July.

The five facilities in the state have a daily population of around 900 juveniles.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org