Large, Rural Juvenile Justice Facilities Must Go!

Protect Youth in the Care of the State!

Gainesville State “School” is not really a school. It is a scandal-ridden prison for youth. Four staff members were arrested last December and three more in February for sexual abuse of youth and official oppression, and the investigation has expanded to other youth prisons.

Sex abuse of youthful inmates by staff at Texas’s youth prisons ten years ago caused lawmakers to close 7 out of 12 large and dangerous facilities. It is time now to close the rest.

The job of moving youth to safer, smaller community-oriented centers is not done. Please take a moment to tell the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to move all youthful offenders to smaller sites nearer their families that focus on rehabilitation.

Act now! It’s time to put an end to this cycle of abuse

In 2007, revelations of sex abuse of youth-prison inmates by staff rocked Texas’ juvenile justice system. A blue-ribbon team put together an action list  to prevent this similar abuse from recurring. The team provided an alternative vision our state needs to pivot away from large, unwieldy facilities where sexual misconduct and other issues like gang activity and staff assault are prolific. Texas was on the path, but stopped before finishing the job.

The 2007 reforms that led to the closure of multiple juvie facilities reduced appropriations for state-run secure facilities from $469 million to $290 million between 2006 to 2015. In accord with the blue ribbon team’s recommendations, that savings was passed into probation departments at the county level. This translated into a drastic reduction in rearrests and far better outcomes due to supervision close to homes and resources.

Despite that measurable progress, hundreds of youth are still subjected to placement in rural facilities that are sometimes a day’s drive from family. Now, a similar sex scandal has arisen because Texas didn’t finish the job begun back in 2007. Texas must close the remaining five units and move kids to smaller facilities closer to their families, urban centers, and resources.

We know what must be done. It’s time for state leaders to take action!

It’s not too late to change the course for 900 youth offenders who are still in rural facilities

How do you make amends for putting our boys in the hands of a woman who is now pregnant by one of her wards, and who told him she’d like to have several of his children? (She even told him she’d even let him name a few!) How do you explain why youth in Texas’ custody were exposed to a psychologist who had boys watch pornography while he watched them masturbate? It simply can’t be undone or rectified.

We have a number of former staff members whose sexual misconduct has permanently damaged the kids in their care. The continued sexual abuse in these last far-flung facilities combined with the constant issue of understaffing and high turnover (as high as 40% and no lower than 20% turnover) are the same issues that plagued the juvenile justice system 10 years ago. They will be the same issues in another 10 years if our state leaders don’t make the concerted and intentional actions to change the course.

Community-focused settings that provide juvenile offenders with the resources and support they need to readjust are instrumental to their future success. How big of a difference does this change make? A study of 1.3 million case records throughout eight years reveals that youth incarcerated at TJJD are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those who are supervised closer to home. We are in the position to steer our youth in a favorable direction by providing them with access and support. Let’s do better for them!