Federal Report: 1 in 10 Youths in Texas Juvenile Detention Facilities Reported Being Sexually Abused Last Year

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One in 10 young people in custody of the Texas' juvenile correctional facilities reported being sexually victimized last year, according to a new Justice Department report.

At 15.3%, only Ohio had a higher rate, according to data compiled by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, several states' sample sizes were not sufficient to yield a reliable analysis of their rates.

Texas' 10.3% rate is considerably higher than the 7.1% national average, according to the report, which tracks incidents in which young prisoners are coerced or forced into sexual activity by staff or other inmates. The national figure is down from 9.5% in 2012, the time of the last DOJ study.

A spokesman for Just Detention International, a group that tracks in-custody sexual abuse, said the national trend is encouraging. However, he said the Texas numbers show the state isn't doing enough to remedy the problem.

“It's clear we're overdue for a long, hard look at what's going wrong [in Texas]," said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, Just Detention's communication director. "We're talking about a systematic failure. To allow children to be exposed to these life-shattering incidents while in the state's care is completely inexcusable."

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department started 2018 with a new executive director, Camille Cain, who initiated an overhaul of the agency amid a series of scandals, including allegations of sexual misconduct by staffers.

TJJD spokesman Brian Sweany didn't dispute the report's findings. However, he said the incidents detailed in it may have happened before the department fully instituted new reforms such as body cameras for staff, better surveillance equipment and a revamped grievance process for youths in the system.

"Obviously, we knew there were issues that needed to be addressed, and that's what Camille was brought in to do," Sweany said.

Despite this year's reform efforts, the federal report shows that three Texas lockups were among those with the highest victimization rates in the nation:

  • McLennan County State Juvenile Correction Facility: 16.1%
  • Gainesville State School: 16%
  • Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correction Complex Unit I: 14%
At the same time, two other Texas facilities were among those with the lowest rates. Just 2.5% of those held at Giddings State School filed complaints, and the Garza County Regular Juvenile Center had no complaints last year.

Lerner-Kinglake said poor training, a culture of retaliation and a lack of empathy for those in custody all create conditions in which sexual victimization thrives.

"The disparity in the numbers at these facilities show you that this is thoroughly preventable," he said. "What it really boils down to is good facility leadership."

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