US Justice Department investigating Texas Juvenile Justice operations after reports of physical, sexual abuse
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The Justice Department has launched a statewide investigation into the operations of Texas youth detention facilities, citing recent allegations of physical and sexual abuse, inadequate mental health care, and excessive use of solitary confinement.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, chief of the department's Civil Rights Division, said Wednesday that the inquiry is focused on conditions at five detention centers operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
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Clarke said the action was taken following news reports chronicling a string of staff arrests and alleged misconduct at the facilities and appeals from advocacy groups, adding that the material offered "significant justification" for federal intervention.
The assistant attorney general referred to about a dozen staff arrests related to sexual and physical abuse of children that involved "body slamming" and exposure to pepper spray.
"The investigation will be independent, thorough and fair," said Clarke, who was joined by the chief federal prosecutors from districts across the state.
Clarke said Texas authorities were notified of the federal action before it was publicly announced Wednesday.
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“Too often children held in juvenile detention facilities are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and deprived of their constitutional rights,” Clarke said. “State officials have a constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable safety for children in these institutions."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Camille Cain, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s executive director, said the state would a“cooperate fully” with the federal inquiry.
“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 ... and it remains our constant focus,” Cain said Wednesday.
DOJ probing treatment of juveniles at Texas facilities
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday that it is launching an investigation into the treatment of juveniles at five facilities run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.The agency said in a statement it will investigate whether the state provides children "reasonable protection from physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents," DOJ said in a statement.The investigation will also look into excessive use of chemical restraint, excessive use of isolation and whether Texas provides adequate mental health care.
In July, Abbott directed the Texas Rangers to investigate "potentially illegal behavior" involving Texas Juvenile Justice Department staffers.
"Throughout his time serving the people of Texas, Governor Abbott has always prioritized the safety and well-being of all Texas children, including those in the state’s care," a spokesman for the governor said.
Last year, the groups Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas cited "rampant gang activity, chronic understaffing, and inadequate mental health care" at the facilities in a complaint filed with the Justice Department.
The groups said the conditions represented "grievous violations of the children's constitutional rights."
"The state facilities are not just failing the youth in them, they are hurting them,” Texas Appleseed said in a statement last year, announcing the federal complaint, referring to "general chaos in the facilities; overreliance on administrative segregation or solitary confinement."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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