McLENNAN COUNTY, Texas – A complaint filed against the Texas Juvenile Justice Department alleges sexual assault, physical abuse and rampant gang activity in state-run detention facilities.
The 23-page complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division says juvenile facilities are understaffed and unsafe for youth inmates.
Brett Merfish is the Director of Youth Justice at Texas Appleseed. She says systematic issues like sexual victimization, high staff turnover, and excessive use of force plague the five juvenile facilities run by the state.
The report claims McLennan County has the highest rate of suicidal youth in solitary confinement.
“187 times a child referred themselves to solitairy confinement in 2018 because of the danger to self for suicide risk, and 103 times in 2019,” said Merfish.
The report also notes a specific case in October 2018 at the Mart facility. There, a program supervisor was accused of downloading a picture of a youth’s genitals and printing the photo.
“One in six youth reported some kind of sexual victimization or abuse – so that could be youth on youth, it could be staff on youth – but without that proper monitoring and activity and engagement, that’s the kind of stuff that happens that we think is obviously highly problematic,” said Merfish.
The report makes note of the use of excessive force, as well.
A diagram shows nearly 46 percent of youth inmates in McLennan County were subjected to use of force.
“Handcuffs, physical restraints. Use of force also includes use of pepper spray, which we object to,” said Merfish.
FOX44 contacted the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and received no response.