In Texas, we are challenging the reliance on courts to handle school-based offenses. This will include developing a legal strategy to challenge Class C misdemeanor tickets to youth for school-based misbehaviors like profanity and truancy. In 2010, Texas issued 420,000 of these tickets to students. Depending on the jurisdiction, youth who are issued tickets must appear in court, and the tickets are often a youth’s first interaction with the juvenile justice system.
NCYL is also developing a strategy to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, particularly against youth of color. Using exclusionary discipline to address school misbehavior make it more likely the student will dropout, and be on the streets where they come into contact with the juvenile justice system and later, the criminal justice system.
The New York Times, July 11, 2011 Just four years ago, the Texas juvenile justice system was awash in allegations of brutality, neglect and sexual abuse by staff members. Thanks to leadership by Gov. Rick Perry and thoughtful, decisive action by the Legislature, a state juvenile justice system that was in chaos a few years ago is making impressive strides.
NCYL, with other advocates, have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate reports of violence, improper use of restraints, and program deficiencies in 10 lockdown facilities in Texas.
Despite sweeping reforms made to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) since 2007, inmates of the state's juvenile justice system experience violence at the hands of both guards and fellow inmates, and are denied adequate mental health care and education.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice Aug. 24, 2010, NCYL, Texas Appleseed, Advocacy Inc., and the Center for Public Representation described unsafe and unconstitutional conditions at the 10 lockdown facilities operated by the commission. These facilities house about 2,000 juveniles, and most are located far from major urban centers, making it difficult to staff them and recruit teachers.
The letter charges the TYC with failing to keep youth safe from other inmates, using excessive restraints for minor offenses, and failing to provide the mental health care and education that youth need to rehabilitate and avoid future incarceration. It also calls on the Department of Justice to investigate possible violations of federal law.
In interviews with advocates, detainees said guards frequently used violence and physical restraints to respond to low-level misbehavior, sometimes hitting or kicking inmates and placing them in physical restraints. Several inmates said they had been placed in barrel restraints. Youth described violent fights among inmates, with "daily" sexual assaults.
Some youth attribute the violence to inadequate educational services -- inmates spend hours they would normally spend in school with little to do. But with facilities located in rural areas, it is difficult to fill open positions. Schoolwork is sometimes limited to a series of worksheets, teachers often call in sick for days at a time, and some students reported classes were often canceled for weeks at a time.
The advocates also say that mentally ill inmates are subjected to frequent changes in medication and inadequate supervision by psychologists.
Many of these same problems were noted in a series of newspaper articles published in 2007 and in a Department of Justice investigation of the Evins facility. Since then, the Texas legislature has passed sweeping reforms and the TYC has begun following revised administrative rules, which advocates helped write in order to limit the use of force and long-term security. The advocates note, however, that the problems that led to reform continue at TYC facilities.
Updated April 16, 2011
Texas State Radio
"This Week in Austin"
Interview with Staff Attorney Patricia Soung, Aug. 25, 2010
Disability Rights Texas, NCYL, and Texas Appleseed
NCYL, Texas Appleseed, Advocacy Inc., and the Center for Public Representation
Aug. 24, 2010
Unless otherwise noted, all photographs that appear here were produced independently of and bear no relationship to cases or incidents discussed herein.