Thursday, June 12, 2008

SUIT TARGETS TEXAS YOUTH FACILITY


The Texas Youth Commission runs what is essentially a state prison system for juveniles. When a court finds that a juvenile has engaged in delinquent conduct, the court--depending on the juvenile’s history and the details of the delinquent conduct--may have the authority to place the juvenile in Texas Youth Commission (TYC) custody.

One of those places where kids are kept is the Brownwood State School which is actually nothing more than a high security prison.

TYC inmates have filed hundreds of sexual abuse complaints against corrections officers within the last few years. Generally nothing much happens with those compliments.

More than a year ago reports surfaced of abuse at the Brownwood "school."

One particularly noxious story told of sexual abuse which took place in a supply closet of a dorm over many months at Brownwood according to documents obtained by the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.

The purported predator was a correctional officer and his victims were wayward teens.

Superiors were alerted to the alleged problem but the staff member who reported her suspicions said she was subject to retaliation, the documents say.

The Brownwood case involved a male correctional officer and four female victims, including a 16-year-old San Antonio girl, according to the documents.

Then, in April of this year, two former correctional officers at the Brownwood state school were indicted on allegations of sexual harassment of students. Such an indictment is rare. (Keep reading and you'll find out why).

Unfortunately it seems these cases are just the tip of the iceberg of problems at Brownwood. Today the ACLU announced a suit whhich charges girls at the school have been subject "...to unwarranted solitary confinement, routine strip searches and brutal physical force." Hopefully the suit will get further than most criminal complaints of abuse in the sytem have.

In May, Houston Chronicle, columnist Lisa Falkenberg discussed one reason why such abuse generally goes unpunished. She suggested there is an obvious problem with placing Texas Youth Commission (TYC) facilities in rural areas which on top of everything else allow for insular "friendly" small-town grand juries and prosecutors to be the chief investigative tool in abuse cases. These grand juries generally are unwilling to charge TYC employees with abuse.

TYC Inspector General Bruce Toney told Falkenberg, "Maybe it's the small town or county attitude of, 'Hey, that's my neighbor, I grew up with him, I grew up with her, I'm not going to see them go to jail over a juvenile that's done nothing but cause trouble all his life.'"

Just as troubling (and another factor in the failure of abuse cases within the sytem to go anywhere) is the fact that Randall W. “Randy” Reynolds, a West Texas district attorney accused of ignoring a graphic and detailed report alleging rampant sexual abuse at a state juvenile jail, won the March Democratic primary with 68% of the vote essentially guaranteeing his re-election as there is no Republican challenger.

According to a Texas Ranger report, the allegations of sexual abuse were laid out and handed over to Reynolds more than two years before the claims of abuse were made public.

And the public apparently didn't care all that much.

The following is a press release from the ACLU.

ACLU Challenges Solitary Confinement And Unwarranted Strip Searches Of Girls Held In Texas Youth Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

AUSTIN, TX – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas filed a class action lawsuit today on behalf of five girls – all of whom have histories of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse – held in the Brownwood State School. Brownwood is a "high security" youth prison located in central Texas and operated by the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state's juvenile corrections agency. The ACLU charges that TYC subjects the girls to unwarranted solitary confinement, routine strip searches and brutal physical force.

"Throwing children into cold, bare solitary confinement cells is profoundly damaging, especially to children who previously have been abused," said Mie Lewis, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "The ACLU has closely monitored developments in the Texas Youth Commission over the last year, and although we see some improvements, TYC's reliance on solitary confinement has to stop."

The ACLU charges that the treatment the girls have suffered violates their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as international standards protecting children from abuse and prohibiting torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

"We are optimistic that we can meet with the defendants soon and come to an amicable solution," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "It's in the interests of both the children and TYC to stop these practices."

Brownwood State School serves as the reception site for all girls committed to TYC custody and nearly all girls in custody in Texas are held there. Brownwood holds approximately 150 girls who have been sent there for offenses ranging from school-related disciplinary infractions to minor property offenses and more serious offenses.

Girls at Brownwood are regularly placed in punitive solitary confinement in oppressively cold, concrete cells, empty except for a metal slab intended to be used as a bed. Solitary confinement is imposed for minor misbehavior, for self-harm or for expressing a desire to commit self-harm. Terms of solitary confinement can be brief or can last for days, weeks and even months.

Upon entering or exiting solitary confinement and on other occasions when they have not left the facility - for example, when they finish a work assignment within the prison - girls are subject to invasive strip searches. When girls resist, guards regularly use physical force, pepper spray, handcuffs and leather straps to force them to comply. These tactics are also used on girls already in solitary confinement in response to self-harm, shouting, and banging on the wall. Girls subjected to this treatment report suffering flashbacks to childhood rapes and feeling degraded, humiliated and afraid.

"The link between psychological trauma and delinquent behavior is well established," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. "Instead of helping girls learn to cope with their experiences, TYC is re-traumatizing them through the use of solitary confinement and strip searches. TYC must do better, for the sake of our clients and all children in the state's custody."

Attorneys on the lawsuit, K.C. et. al v. Nedelkoff et. al, include Lewis and Lapidus from the ACLU Women's Rights Project, Graybill from the ACLU of Texas, Steven M. Watt from the ACLU Human Rights Program and Elizabeth Alexander from the ACLU National Prison Project.

The complaint is available online at:
www.aclu.org/womensrights/crimjustice/35632lgl20080612.html

The motion for class certification and memorandum in support of motion for class certification are available online at:
www.aclu.org/womensrights/crimjustice/35631lgl20080612.html

More information on the ACLU's work on girls in youth prisons including excerpts of interviews with the girls held in the Brownwood facility is available at:
www.aclu.org/womensrights/crimjustice/girlsinprison.html

1 comment:

Megan said...

i was at brownwood state school in 2001 on dorm five unit 2 i can name only a few employees who acually cared enough to help the "students" i can tell you right now that the whole system of tyc is a mess, the mentor program, everything,if you want more info on what the mentor program put me through, my email is salparadisechic@ymail.com