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Texas Ships its Most Troubled Youth to Adult Prisons

by Jordan Arizmendi

As a result of a significantly depleted work force, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), is imploring judges to send its most troubled and violent youth to the adult prison system operated by the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

A report by the Texas Tribune on April 28, 2023, said that the practice has become more frequent. In 2022, TJJD transferred 51 of its almost 600 juveniles to TDCJ. There were 29 transfers the year before. A vast majority of those transferred are 18-years old, but they committed their crime when minors. However, 12 of the youth transferred in 2022 were under 18. There were five transfers under 18 the year before. One of the children was 16 years old, when transferred to an adult prison. Reportedly, he killed himself six months later.

Studies show that children incarcerated in adult facilities are much more likely to commit suicide than children housed in juvenile facilities. But when there is an extremely violent youth at a juvenile facility, it poses a Catch-22 – send the kid off to an adult prison where he risks suicide or allow him to stay and destabilize other children.

“The thought was how can we get these 10% of kids out of [the general juvenile] population, so the kids who are doing well and are being rehabilitated aren’t being swept in with the kids who are assaulting staff, assaulting kids,” said Executive Director of Texas’ Special Prosecution Unit, Jack Choate. 

A depleted workforce of guards and other TJJD staff only makes it more difficult to control unruly juveniles. Last year, in the five youth prisons operated by TJJD, children were locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day; the number of children self-harming soared; and water bottles and lunch trays were often used as toilets. Meanwhile, TJJD claims it is trying to recruit more guardss.

Youth justice advocates claim that kicking a damaged child to an adult lockup won’t work. Although those transferred to adult prisons are the most dangerous youth, they can still become sex-trafficking victims. Most also have profound mental health needs. Sending these children to an adult prison, they say, indicates just one thing: a failed system.

Source: Texas Tribune

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