The Department of Justice launches probe into Texas youth correctional facilities

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it was launching a civil rights investigation into Texas’ juvenile justice facilities, over allegations of physical and sexual abuse against children there. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the Justice Department, in conjunction with local U.S. attorneys’ offices across Texas, was launching a pattern-or-practice probe into potential civil rights abuses at these correctional facilities. The investigation will span five secure correctional facilities operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Clarke said at a virtual news conference announcing the investigation: “State officials have a constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable safety for children in these institutions, and the Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of children who end up in such facilities. No child who is sent to a Texas facility for treatment and rehabilitation should be subjected to violence and abuse nor denied basic services.”  Clarke said that investigators will look into the reported use of pepper spray and restraints against children, as well as allegations of improper or excessive physical force, the use of isolation in these facilities and the level of mental health services available to children there. Clark also said that in recent years at least 11 staff members had been arrested over allegations of sexually abusing children at these facilities.

The investigation comes as the Biden administration and government of Texas have feuded on an array of issues, most notably over abortion access, the influx of migrants attempting to cross the southern border and Covid-19 vaccination requirements. Clarke said that Texas officials had been formally notified of the probe, and that federal investigators intended to meet with their state counterparts as part of their examination of the treatment of youths in these facilities. Camille Cain, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced the agency would “cooperate fully“ with the Justice Department investigation, and said in a statement: “We all share the same goals for the youth in our care: providing for their safety, their effective rehabilitation, and the best chance for them to lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

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