The Department of Justice on Oct. 13 announced the launch of a statewide investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at five correctional centers run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
“Our investigation will focus on whether there is a pattern or practice of physical or sexual abuse of children in Texas’s secure facilities,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Kristen Clarke, said in remarks announcing the investigation. “We will also investigate whether there is a pattern or practice of harm as a result of the excessive use of chemical restraints, excessive use of isolation, or a lack of adequate mental health services.”
At least 11 staff members of juvenile facilities across Texas have been arrested over the course of several years for sexually abusing children in their care. There are also reports of staff members paying children with drugs and cash to assault other children.
“There are also reports of staff members’ use of excessive force on children, including kicking, body-slamming, and choking children to the point of unconsciousness,” Clarke said.
The department will also be looking into reports of inadequate mental health care provided to the children at the facilities. Reports of self-harm by children at juvenile detention centers more than doubled in 2019 compared to the year before, Clark noted.
“No matter who they are—or what they’ve done—our state’s kids deserve safe environments,” Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham of the Northern District of Texas said in a statement. “We cannot expect juvenile offenders to thrive later in life if they emerge from confinement traumatized by sexual abuse, excessive force, or incessant isolation.”
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is running the investigation in cooperation with the four U.S. attorney’s offices in the Lone Star State.
The Justice Department’s prior investigations into the juvenile justice systems in other states have helped address systemic issues. In Meridian, Mississippi, the department found that the local police department was arresting children for minor offenses in school without probable cause. In South Carolina, investigators found that the state failed “to keep children reasonably safe from harm caused by punitive and excessive isolation, as well as harm inflicted by other children,” Clarke said.