Texas' Youth Prisons Among The Worst For Sexual Abuse, Study Finds

The Texas Youth Commission can't seem to stop its staff members from raping young inmates locked up at state facilities, according to a recently released federal report that paints the state agency as one of the worst in the country.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted the investigation, as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, "to carry out a comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidents and effects of prison rape for each calendar year." According to the report, two of the 12 state institutions run by the Texas Youth Commission are among the worst facilities for sexual assault of inmates.

"It's a very important study, and the data is certainly something that makes us go, 'Wow, let's take a look at this deeper,'" Jim Hurley, a spokesman with TYC, tells Hair Balls. "But because it's unverifiable and can't be confirmed, we have to be careful what we do."

The Texas kids were surveyed for the report in mid-2008, answering questions that pertained to their time in TYC from that point to a year earlier. Hurley says that since that time, the youth commission has already implemented new policies and safety measures to cut back on sexual abuse.

Those reforms include installing video cameras in the facilities, as well as providing phones for kids to make reports. The intake process at also includes questions to identify inmates who are vulnerable to sexual abuse, as well as identifying kids who might be sexual predators, Hurley says. 

Those reforms were kicked off by a scandal that made national news during the early months of 2007. Young inmates at TYC's West Texas State School had been making claims of sexual assault for years, resulting in an investigation by the Texas Rangers that found that 13 boys had been molested, being "taken to darkened conference rooms, offices and ball fields for sex with two of the institutions top administrators," according to a 2007 Associated Press article.

Even more troubling, if that's possible, after TYC officials read found out about the abuse, the two top administrators who had been raping young inmates were simply allowed to resign with no criminal charges. One of the men took a job at another school after he resigned.

Hurley says things have changed since then. "Just having a reporting mechanism [for sexual assault claims] is new in TYC since 2007," he says.

But the recently released federal report says otherwise. The Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, where mentally ill youth offenders are housed, was the second worst in the country, with 32 percent of the inmates reporting sexual assault by other inmates or staff. The Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon -- about 190 miles northwest of Dallas -- was the third worst, with 25 percent reporting sexual assault. Each incident involved a staff member at Victory Field.

And at the closest youth prison to Houston, the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont, about 15 percent of the inmates reported being sexually assaulted. That's still worse than the national average, however, which is 12 percent. 

Because of the report, Hurley says, TYC intends to re-survey the inmates at Corsicana and Victory Field, allowing groups who advocate for kids in the system to oversee the questioning process. 

"We want to make sure the reforms we've implemented during this time are actually working," Hurley says. "It's something we want to do quickly."

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Paul Knight
Contact: Paul Knight