A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Policy showed that Texas juveniles who were being held in adult jails while awaiting trial as adults are often isolated with no access to education and endangered by adult prisoners. At the same time, the Texas juvenile prison system, recently renamed the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), has been rocked by months of violence in its six secure facilities – especially the 300-bed Giddings State School.
For the study, 41 jail systems in Texas were sent a survey to complete asking about the juveniles incarcerated there, their access to programs and whether they were isolated from adult prisoners. The result showed that there were few juvenile prisoners under the age of 17 in adult jails – only 34 during the survey months of October and November 2011. The survey also showed that, in 30 of the jails surveyed, adults and juveniles were incarcerated separately. However, even in the facilities which housed adults and juveniles separately, juveniles might come into contact with adult prisoners during showers, recreation or meals.
"National research indicates that juveniles in adult facilities are five times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and rape than youths who are kept in the juvenile system," according to the report.
On May 7, 2012, two days before the report was released, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a ruling that jails must separate the adults and juveniles in their custody.
Even with separation, there are problems. Most of the juveniles who are kept separate are kept in isolation. This long-term isolation can cause mental health issues and prevent continued education. The report noted that the lack of any educational programming may also violate state and federal law.
"We're sending them back out onto the streets having deteriorated mentally" and having fallen far behind in their studies , said Michele Deitch, an expert on jail conditions and professor at the LBJ School, who led the study.
With this in mind, Travis Count) judge Jeanne Meurer recently made her first use of a 2011 law that allows her to order a juvenile criminal defendant who has been certified as an adult sent to juvenile detention to await trial.
"My philosophy is to the extent possible kids should remain in juvenile facilities," said Meurer. "But it's not always possible" because counties need discretion to deal with juvenile defendants who are extremely violent.
Once convicted, Texas juveniles who were riot certified as adults are sent to the TJJD. But their treatment there may not he much better than the juveniles in adult jail. The TJJD has been rocked by violence for months. The crisis is so great that, in May 2012, Texas Governor Rick Perry's key "fix-it" man, Jay Kimbrough, 64, was reassigned from his post as assistant director for homeland security at the Texas Department of Public Safety to the TJJD.
Kimbrough is no stranger to the TJJD. He was brought in as special master and later conservator of what was then known as the Texas Youth Commission, following a sex abuse, physical abuse and cover-up scandal in 2007. He is expected to quell the escalating violence, extortion and gang activity allegedly occurring in the TJJD and especially at Giddings. TJJD has already reinstated Kimbrough's former requirement of uniforms for employees amid allegations that some Giddings employee looked more like gang members than state employees.
Sources: Texas Tribune, Austin American-Statesman
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