Texas Youth Prisons can’t seem to stop their staff from abusing kids locked up at their facilities. According to a report released by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Texas Juvenile prisons are the worst in the nation for abuse and sexual assault of young inmates.
The Texas Juvenile Justice troubles erupted when the public learned that top administrators at a West Texas lockup were accused of molesting scores of boys in their care. A rash of sexual and physical abuse allegations followed.
Children locked up at Texas state facilities had been making claims of neglect, abuse, exploitation and sexual assault for years, resulting in an investigation by the Texas Rangers that found that boys had been molested, being “taken to darkened conference rooms, offices and ball fields for sex with the institutions top administrators,” according to an Associated Press article.
The boys told their parents, their teachers, any staff member who would listen. A few diligent staff members took their complaints to their supervisors. But the allegations were largely covered up until they exploded in the biggest scandal ever to engulf the nation’s juvenile prison system.
The allegations became public when the Dallas Morning News cited a never-released Texas Rangers report that said the boys were molested at the West Texas State school, a red-brick institution ringed by razor wire in Vernon, a desolate part of the state. Since then, others have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at other juvenile prisons across Texas.
Even more troubling, the two top administrators who had been raping young inmates for years were simply allowed to quietly resign and prosecutors did not charge anyone. One of the men took a job at a local school after he resigned.
After the Texas Rangers investigation became public, lawmakers found that allegations of sexual abuse and violence at state juvenile centers were widespread.
“What scares me the most is what I don’t know,” state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, told reporters.
Following the report, the entire governing board of the Texas Youth Commission was forced to resign for covering up claims of sexual abuse in state detention centers.
Officials have referred more than 6,000 abuse allegations to local law enforcement, including accusations that employees engaged in sodomy and oral sex with boys and girls. Only eighteen of those cases have been prosecuted to date. It is not clear how many resulted in convictions.
But the abuse of children held in Texas youth facilities continues at a rampant pace. Just recently, officials at the state youth prison agency arrested Samuel Wright, a suspected serial sexual predator who worked as a corrections officer at a juvenile lockup in Gainesville, on charges of sexually assaulting a youth at the secure facility.
According to the Houston Press, Wright began working there in 2014, and investigators since the arrest have uncovered several allegations of abuse starting as early as December 2015.
“We are still interviewing kids and making sure the kids are safe,” said Debbie Unruh, the independent ombudsman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. “I would like to see a more thorough investigation to see if there are more victims.”
Now, Child Protective Service and the Texas State Rangers are conducting an investigation into allegations of Meth distribution at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, a source close to the investigation told Political Dig.
NTSH Vernon is a maximum security facility that offers adult forensic psychiatric services to adults and substance abuse treatment services to adolescents referred from juvenile courts throughout the state as part of their probation.
The bombshell revelation was confirmed by Casey Little, the facility director. “We acted immediately upon learning of the allegations and our team is conducting an internal investigation into the matter,” Little admitted during a phone call interview.
When asked if the staff accused of providing the dangerous drug to kids under their care were still working at the facility, Mr. Little said: “I’m not allowed to say if whether they are still employed. You need to contact Ms. Ronna Akins, the communications Director.”
Ms. Akin’s office did not return our call requesting more information into the matter.
Interestingly, all the kids who said they were offered drugs by staff were discharged from the facility and sent back to detention for “violation of their probation”, according to the source.
“After they gave me the rocks, I knew that place was bad for me. Instead of helping me, they were trying to bring me down with meth, so I basically had to do something to force my way out of that place,” one of the boys said, according to his mother.
Among the parents to come forward with horror stories since the scandal broke is Sara Reyes, whose 17-year-old son was discharged from the facility two weeks ago.
“My son went through a lot there. In April, I got a phone call at 4 am from the hospital to inform me that my son had been involved in a drug-related situation where the staff was providing him some kind of methamphetamine. When I later found out what it was, it was alarming, disturbing even” she told Political Dig in a video interview.
“I had trusted the system to send him to a place where he was supposed to go and get treated for something that wasn’t even that bad,” she said fighting back tears. “That phone call that we all dread as parents… you know, you don’t want to wake up one day with a phone call they telling you that your son who was sent to a place for help is going to come out in a casket because staff was providing him with drugs.”
Reyes said her son’s probation officer apologized for sending her son to the Vernon State Hospital and told her that “his department will not recommend more kids to that facility.”
A former employee at the facility told Political Dig that kids are not only being abused, “they are also kept locked up for months after their ‘target release date’ because the longer they keep those kids the more money the facility receives from the federal government.”
The former staff also revealed that most of the upper-level staff at the Vernon State hospital transferred from Victory Field, the same facility that was closed down following the sexual assault scandal.
NTSH also faces a myriad of allegations of neglect, abuse, and exploitation of minors at its Vernon campus.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department declined to comment on the current investigation.