Abuse Doubles at Texas Juvenile Facilities

Abuse and mistreatment of juveniles in Texas detention facilities and half-way houses has doubled in the past five years.

Last year, the Texas Youth Commission received 1,458 allegations of abuse and mistreatment and determined that 535 cases were valid. That compared with 260 confirmed cases out of 693 allegations in 1998.

Almost half of the 5,200 juvenile detainees are mentally ill. Eight years ago, the number was only 27%.

Handling young people with mental illness, experts say, requires different skills from those needed for other minors convicted of delinquent behavior. They worry that most juvenile corrections officers don't have the experience and training to deal with mentally ill youths. There are no national standards for housing mentally ill juvenile offenders or for the staffing and training to handle them.

"I've talked to detention officers all over this state, and they say, `Give me a gangbanger any day of the week,' " said Frank Birchak, supervising attorney for the University of Houston Law School juvenile defense clinic. "They are much easier to deal with, easier to control."

Many juvenile corrections officers are just a few years out of high school, earning a typical starting salary of $20k a year. The turnover rate of staff is 33%, in part caused by a staff injury rate of 54%. One facility's superintendant said, ""We're doing the best we can with what we've got."

Sorry, but that's not good enough. This broken system needs to change.

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