The Justice Department on Wednesday launched an investigation into allegations of widespread mistreatment at Texas' embattled youth lockups, where at least 11 staffers have been arrested on sexual abuse charges in recent years.
In a statement released Wednesday, the DOJ said, "The investigation will examine whether Texas provides children confined in the facilities reasonable protection from physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation. The investigation will also examine whether Texas provides adequate mental health care."
The move by the Biden administration is the latest sign of trouble for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, which for more than a decade has been beset by scandal, staff shakeups, and investigations into allegations of abuse.
Just last week, a former coach at a West Texas facility was arrested on charges alleging that he touched the breast of an 18-year-old in custody.
The announcement comes a year after advocates in Texas filed a complaint with federal investigators that outlined "grave problems" at the state's five youth lockups.
Texas put more than 800 youths in state juvenile detention in 2019, which was more than any other state, according to an agency report published in September.
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"Being subjected to harmful conditions does not rehabilitate children, it only leads to worse life outcomes," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Camille Cain, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, posted the following statement on the DOJ's investigation on the TJJD website on Wednesday.
“The Texas Juvenile Justice Department will cooperate fully with the United States Department of Justice. We all share the same goals for the youth in our care: providing for their safety, their effective rehabilitation, and the best chance for them to lead productive, fulfilling lives. That has been the agency’s mission since I joined TJJD, and it remains our constant focus.”
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has not responded to requests by the Associated Press for comment. In July, Abbott ordered a new investigation into the agency following reports of mistreatment by staff.
In 2007, Texas lawmakers shuttered youth lockups across the state after authorities believed at least 13 boys in custody had been sexually abused.
Five juvenile lockups and four halfway houses remain today but are spread out in rural areas, which juvenile advocates said has made finding and retaining qualified officers difficult.
The DOJ said Wednesday they have not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations and that the investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is conducting this investigation jointly with the U.S. Attorneys’ offices in the Western, Eastern, Southern and Northern Districts of Texas. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department via phone at 1-866-432-0438 or by email at TX.Juveniles@usdoj.gov.