The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched a statewide investigation into serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse of minor children by staff at five juvenile detention centers in Texas.

According to an official statement issued on Wednesday, Oct. 13, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke, children in juvenile detention centers are too often subjected to abuse and mistreatment and deprived of their constitutional rights. 

In this context, Clarke added that state officials have a constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable safety for children in these institutions, and for this reason, a thorough investigation will be conducted in Texas to reach conclusions about the allegations received.

Clarke explained that the Department of Justice’s investigation will examine “whether there is a pattern or practice of harm as a result of the excessive use of chemical restraints, excessive use of isolation or lack of adequate mental health services.” The primary objective is to determine if there are any practices of physical or sexual abuse of children in Texas facilities.

Over the past several years, at least 11 staff members at juvenile facilities across Texas have been arrested on charges of sexually abusing children in their care. 

There are also reports of staff members paying children with drugs and cash to assault other children.

Regarding allegations of physical abuse, Clarke said, “There are also reports of staff members’ use of excessive force on children, including kicking, body-slamming, and choking children to the point of unconsciousness.”

Another of the points that will be analyzed in the investigation is the considerable increase in the number of registered cases of children with “self-harm” during the last few years, which in principle could be caused by inadequate mental health treatment by the professionals in charge. 

As reported by Fox News, Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery of the Southern District of Texas, during a briefing, said, “Youth, even if they are confined in a juvenile facility, should not be abused, mistreated or deprived of essential services. We have a duty to ensure that youth incarcerated in our state are held in safe and constitutional conditions.”

U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff of the Western District of Texas and Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham of the Northern District of Texas were also on hand to express their support for the Justice Department’s investigation.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott in July 2021 had already asked Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw to conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state Department of Juvenile Justice employees had engaged in “illegal behavior” with juveniles.

“The Office of the Inspector General for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) and the TJJD Independent Ombudsman have reported to prosecuting attorneys multiple allegations that certain TJJD staff members have recently engaged in potential illegal behavior,” Abbott said in the letter.

The Special Litigation Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is conducting the investigation in cooperation with the four U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Lone Star State.

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