NO Throw Away Kids

I am deeply troubled by yesterday’s article in the Texas Tribune about kids in juvenile justice facilities being assessed in order to transfer the so-called bad ones to adult facilities. Jay Kimbrough, interim Executive Director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), and Texas State Senator John Whitmire seem to think sending these children to adult facilities will prevent them from acting out violently and hold them “accountable.”

The reality is that these children will only learn more violent behaviors and will become the victims in a more violent and dangerous environment. I recently toured a high security Texas prison with one of my law school classes. It was far from a controlled, peaceful place. Guards told us about the prevalence of assaults both on other inmates and prison staff. According to a 2010 article in the Houston Chronicle, Texas prisons lead the nation in prison sexual abuse. Just Detention International found that “5 out of 10 prisons with the highest rate of sexual abuse in the country are in Texas.”

Sending these children to adult facilities is not for their benefit and does not benefit society. Shipping these kids to the adult system only communicates that we think you are un-saveable, and we refuse to try to help you anymore, essentially throw away kids. Personally, I do not believe in throw away kids.

Dr. Bruce Perry is an international authority in the area of child maltreatment and the impact of trauma and neglect on the developing brain. Dr. Perry believes that no child is unreachable, but instead needs the opportunity for repetitive therapeutic pattern activities to develop the appropriate coping and behavioral skills. In his article titled Keep the Cool in School, Promoting Non-Violent Behavior in Children, Dr. Perry states that “promoting a child’s emotional health is the most successful approach available to fighting violence.”

We are so quick to blame the kids when the systems designed to help them do not work. Maybe we should focus on why these systems are failing to rehabilitate these children?

Are Texas Juvenile Correctional Facilities Improving?

The Austin-American Statesman reported last week on a survey of Texas youth offenders that shows that more juveniles are feeling safer in state-run facilities. The report also shows that additional reforms must be implemented.

A survey of more than 100 youths at a Central Texas juvenile correctional facility demonstrates the need for more reforms in the state juvenile justice system and for policies that keep youths closer to their homes, advocates say.

The state’s juvenile system is in the throes of sweeping reforms. In 2007, lawmakers passed a series of laws that reformed how the Texas Youth Commission kept juvenile offenders safe after stunning revelations of sexual abuse by the adults charged with caring for them.

Though the vast majority of youths surveyed reported feeling safe in the juvenile justice system and hopeful about their futures, they identified attacks from their peers as among their biggest concerns, and they said more staff training was the No. 1 thing they would change about the system. They cited negative interactions with staff, including perceived mistreatment and unfair rule enforcement, and said guards seemed ill-prepared to deal with youth assaults and bullying, according to the survey released this week by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

The Texas Legislature passed a number of measures in 2007 after a sex abuse scandal rocked the Texas Youth Commission. Based on survey results, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition outlined a number of next steps to continue reforms. Some suggestions included more training for staff members that interact with youth, implementing additional reforms that reduce youth-on-youth violence, and establishing policies that keep juveniles closer to their homes and families.

The Statesman article also quoted Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, who characterized the study as a “good report.”

Texas State Senator John Whitmire, Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, will be speaking at the 11th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference at the University of Houston Law Center this Friday and Saturday. Senator Whitmire has played a key role in the restructuring of the juvenile criminal justice system in the aftermath of the TYC sex abuse scandal. He will be speaking Friday afternoon in a session about TYC Restructuring.