Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke has outlined some of the reasons the department has begun an investigation into all five Texas secure state juvenile justice centers, including the facility at Mart, saying they are conducting this investigation pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
Both federal laws authorize the Department of Justice to investigate whether conditions in juvenile justice institutions comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution and federal law.
She said the investigation will focus on whether there is a pattern or practice of physical or sexual abuse of children in Texas’ secure facilities, and whether there is a pattern or practice of harm as a result of the excessive use of chemical restraints, excessive use of isolation or a lack of adequate mental health services.
Clarke provided a list of reasons they are starting the probe, based on what was called “an extensive review of publicly available information and information gathered from stakeholders.”
- Over the last few years – and as recently as last week – at least 11 facility staff members have been arrested for sexually abusing the children in their care. While persons charged are presumed innocent unless convicted, these arrests support a need for a thorough investigation.
- There are reports of other misconduct by staff members. For example, staff members have reportedly paid children with drugs and cash to assault other children. There are also reports of staff sharing pornographic material with children.
- There are also reports of staff members’ use of excessive force on children, including kicking, body-slamming and choking children to the point of unconsciousness. In an incident from last February, staff reportedly pepper sprayed a child and placed him in “full mechanical restraints,” including handcuffs, a belly chain, shackles and a spit mask, and then body-slammed him onto a bed.
She said the department has also received information suggesting that children are not receiving adequate mental health care, saying there are reports of at least two possible suicides in recent years. Additionally, she said the number of youths with serious self-injuries in Texas’ secure facilities in 2019 more than doubled compared to the year before.
Her statement said a team of career civil rights attorneys from the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division will be joined by career lawyers from the United States Attorney’s Offices in Texas in conducting the investigation. The investigation will be independent, thorough and fair.
“We have not made, and will not make, any conclusions until our investigation is complete. If our investigation reveals reasonable cause to believe there is a systemic constitutional violation, we will provide written notice to the State of Texas of the violation or violations, along with the supporting facts and the minimal remedial measures. We will seek to work cooperatively with the state to establish solutions to any problems our investigation uncovers,” she said.