Crime and Punishment Juvenile Justice

This Week’s WORST SCANDAL Award


It’s still unfolding and it just keeps on getting worse and worse.
And, no, it has zero to do with U.S Attorneys. It has to do with wrecking kids‘ lives.

Here’s the deal: The entire Texas juvenile justice system—known as the Texas Youth Commission—is in meltdown due to a recent series of revelations, each more horrifying than the last.

First there was the news a month ago that, according to an investigative report issued by the Texas Rangers, two administrators at a youth prison in west Texas had been having coerced sex with kids in their care for years. (And in their spare time, the same two viewed pornography on the job. Charming.) Yet, although prison officials and local prosecutors knew about the abuse, they chose not to pursue the cases. And the abusers remained on the job.

Once the Texas Rangers got going, they found that awful stuff wasn’t going on at just one youth lock-up. Within a week or two, investigators turned up evidence that similar abuse was going on in a number of other juvenile facilities.

Next came the discovery that that the Texas Youth Commission employs dozens of convicted felons—including at least one registered sex offender. (It is not clear yet whether the rest of the felonies are serious or comparatively minor.)

The scandal moved up one more notch last Friday when the superintendent of the holding facility that processes all juveniles into the Texas system arrested for his part in covering up physical and sexual abuse.

Still other administers have been caught file shredding.

The next set of discoveries made clear that a whole lot of officials had good reason to shred:

It appears that as many as 3000 kids of the 4700 kids locked in Texas juvenile facilities may soon be released because it has come to light that many of these teenage inmates had their sentences arbitrarily extended for months, even years for trivial and/or retaliatory reasons that include filing complaints against guards, or refusing to have sex with the same guards or, in the case of 15-year old, Shaquanda Cotton, having an extra pair of sox in her cell, according to the Chicago Tribune.

(In fact, Shaquanda’s story is a stunner all by itself. A year ago, when she was 14, this girl with no prior run-ins with the law, lost her temper and shoved a teachers aide—a transgression that got her a sentence of 7 years in the Texas’ juvenile system. Without intervention, she’s set to be out when she’s 21-years-old. The injustice of her situation has, however, captured the attention of the blogosphere, and now there’s a strong movement to push her to the head of the line when it comes to the expected releases.)

Judging by the flood of calls coming in to a new youth hot line set up by investigators, it seems there’s more systemic rot still to be float to the surface. At last count, says the New York Times, around 225 of the 1100 complaints that have come in were about sexual abuse.

Incidently, Texas is not the only youth detention system lately slammed by scandal. Florida’s in an uproar after some guards in one of its punitive state boot camps managed to pretty much beat a kid to death on video. While in California, it is coming to light that guards in some of California’s youth facilities may have turned off surveillance cameras so they could “discipline” kids however they saw fit.

Perhaps this is what happens when a society demonizes its lawbreaking children, rather than trying to rehabilitate and redeem them. I mean, if it’s just Bad Kids you’re dealing with, what the heck, right? Anything goes.


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