by Ed Lyon
Some youthful offenders in Texas will soon be moved to a former death row wing in the Ellis Unit in Huntsville.
Children ages 14 to 17 who are certified as adults, tried and sentenced to prison for committing crimes, take part in a Youthful Offender Program (YOP). The female YOP is administered at the Hilltop prison in Gatesville. Until recently, the male YOP was administered at the Clemens prison in Brazoria County.
Despite a statutory requirement for YOPs to be separate from adult areas, an adult and adolescent prisoner were found to have had sex at Clemens in 2017. This sparked an investigation that resulted in staff changes. Although prison officials deny this was the catalyst, the all-male YOP is being moved to the Ellis prison in Huntsville, the location of the sprawling 104 prison units’ main headquarters.
An entire three-tier cellblock has been refurbished and modified for self-contained living with its own dining area. Two meeting rooms and a small infirmary are air-conditioned. Fans are provided in the remaining areas, and televisions are by the two-person cells. Day-room windows that are normally open to other areas of the prison have been painted over with murals. The day room itself will double as a classroom for structured programs, exclusive of the G.E.D. curriculum, which will continue to be administered by the Windham School System.
Outside recreation areas are provided — separated from adult areas by mesh fencing.
Longtime Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire said he is “very pleased with the move.” The program, he added, “needed to be more mainstream, and if you’re [the YOP] in Huntsville, you’re in the nerve center of where the system is.”
Jennifer Erschabek, of the Texas Inmate Families Association board of directors, approves of the new measures but maintains “it would be better if we could just keep our children at home and provide mental health care and the services they need in their communities.”
Director Elizabeth Henneke of the Lone Star Justice Alliance agrees with Erschabek, going a step further, questioning the wisdom behind incarcerating children in adult prisons.
Source: Houston Chronicle
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