Texas Tops the Nation in Teen Births

Texas ranks #9 in states with the highest teenage birth rate.[1] A whopping 1 in 6 of Texas teens who gave birth in Texas in 2020 had already given birth before.[2] This comes after Texas passed the controversial Senate Bill 8 which greatly reduced abortion access in Texas.[3]Access to abortion is only half the battle for those trying to reduce unplanned pregnancy in teenagers. Birth control also plays a critical role in protecting teens from unplanned pregnancies.

Birth control options are extremely limited for Texas teens. Texas is one of the states where teens under 18 need parental consent to go on contraception.[4] A teen living independently with their own child needs a parent’s permission to go on contraception. Birth control is a taboo subject between many teens and parents, leaving some teens to wait until it’s too late. Teens who bring up contraception with their parents can be shut down. Parental permission is an even bigger hurdle for teens not living with their parents and teens in foster care who can not procure a parent’s consent.       

Contraception is not covered for teens on CHIP, the state’s health insurance program, and they must instead seek coverage by the state funded Family Planning Program. Parental permission is also required under the Family Planning Program.[5] CHIP covers teens through their 19th birthday. [6] An 18 year old still enrolled in CHIP will not have birth control covered by their insurance and must use the Family Planning Program. The FPP’s opt-in style contraception coverage creates a gap between a teen needing birth control and having that need met. This gap leaves teens vulnerable to unplanned pregnancy while they are trying to be responsible with their sexual health.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton wrote an opinion targeting families who seek gender-affirming healthcare, particularly hormone blockers, for their transgender child. [7] This spells bad news for birth control, which usually blocks certain pregnancy-inducing hormones. The opinion encourages family services to investigate families suspected of providing gender-affirming care to their child, and is supported by a letter to Texas family services from Governor Greg Abott.[8] The opinion does not outlaw hormone blocking medications for teens. It’s aim is to scare families away from certain healthcare for teenagers. The opinion targets puberty blocking drugs, but it may discourage transgender teens and their parents from going to birth control appointments out of fear of being reported by their doctor. As a result, trans youth face a new barrier to contraception. The attack on hormonal medications for teens leaves some contraceptives vulnerable to similar arguments, as they both use hormones that affect the reproductive system. If the government is successful with this intrusion into family healthcare, birth control could be next. 

If Texas wants to reduce the number of teens giving birth, it must recognize a teen’s right to make their own reproductive health choices. The state can start by ensuring contraception is covered by CHIP, which would allow teens to get a birth control prescription filled soon after visiting their primary care doctor.  Eliminating parental consent to birth control might be a long shot in the lone star state, but drastic action may be the answer to a drastic problem. It’s clear that Texas’ current approach to contraception is failing its children.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/teen-births/teenbirths.htm

[2] https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/texas-teenage-pregnancy-abortion/

[3] https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/texas-teenage-pregnancy-abortion/

[4] https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/texas-teenage-pregnancy-abortion/

[5] https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/texas-teenage-pregnancy-abortion/

[6] https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/texas-teenage-pregnancy-abortion/

[7] https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/opinion-files/opinion/2022/kp-0401.pdf

[8] https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/O-MastersJaime202202221358.pdf

Officers on School Campuses Negative Impacts

The ability to teach a child something carries excellent weight on how they gain knowledge to understand the lessons learned in that taught experience. “Reducing recidivism should be the goal of public safety, not more punishment,” as stated by Alycia Castillo, aligns with the lessons youth are taught. Black children are punished at a much higher rate than their white counterparts for crimes. The punishments served are more severe, as “[c]hildren of color, particularly Black children, are overrepresented in arrests and other police contact.” As these Black children are taught that being arrested is the result of punishment, they then accept arrest as a punishment. Many of these cases do not deserve punishment, but it does not need to be as severe as an arrest if needed. There should be better ways of rehabilitating all but predominantly Black and Brown children rather than punishing them severely for their unfortunate run-ins with the law.

The punishment issues can arise with the presence of police on school campuses. “Arrests increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school.” This is a byproduct of punishment that Black and Brown children face from police in schools. Many students may give up on their studies if facing run-ins with the law is part of it. Some may see that no matter if their inside or outside the school, they will still be a run-in with the law. This unfortunate event is an occurrence that happens too often in Black and Brown communities. “When youth come into contact with police, including through arrests, they miss classroom learning time, are stigmatized by peers and teachers, and may experience trauma related to the physical and psychological humiliations of arrest.” This is a negative impact on Black and Brown children, especially in Harris County as “[i]n 2020, in Harris County just for example, Black kids were 19 times more likely to be confined than white kids, and Latino kids were about seven times more likely to be confined than their white peers,” stated by Castillo. There is a substantially higher population of white children to Black children in Harris County, yet many children being confined as punishment are Black children.

The unfair practice of punishment is one of many practices done to marginalized communities. To have police on school campuses increases the chances that Black and Brown children experience these unfair punishments. Additionally, the resources used on policing in schools affect Black and Brown children more negatively than white children. These resources should be reallocated to resolve run-ins with the law as a rehabilitation effort. The unfair treatment of Black and Brown people with the law outside of school is already extreme, and we shouldn’t allow the treatment of Black in Brown children in school to be the same.

Getting Rich Off Ruining Lives, How Private For-Profit Prisons Use Juveniles as a Tool to Line Their Pockets

photo courtesy of: http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2012/04/photog-hopes-to-effect-policy-with-survey-of-juvenile-lock-ups/#slideid-45151

Cutting costs and saving money has become a top priority in many industries across the country, pushing effectiveness, performance, and successful outcomes lower and lower down the totem pole.  With budgetary strains affecting states across the country, governments are putting more faith in privatization as a way to save money.  One industry that has experienced enormous controversy over privatization efforts is the juvenile justice system.  Despite an extensive record full of allegations regarding physical and sexual abuse, poor facility conditions, and inadequate programming that has come to characterize the for-profit private juvenile prison industry, nearly 40% of juvenile delinquents in the United States today are housed in private institutions.

The name James Slattery has become associated with private prisons, but for all the wrong reasons.  A one-time New York City hotelier, Slattery is not a newcomer to the prison scene.  From establishing “welfare hotels” in the 1980s to halfway houses for federal prisoners in the 1990s, Slattery’s profit making ventures have consistently been controversial, both in nature and performance.  Notwithstanding the repugnant track record his previous enterprises hold, Slattery, now head of Youth Services International (YSI), has contracts with 16 states and has been entrusted with the responsibility of supervising over 40,000 juveniles over the past 20 years.  Perhaps one of the most notorious news pieces associated with Slattery’s name occurred at a boot camp in Texas operated by one of his previous companies, Correctional Services Corporation.  In 2001, a juvenile came down with pneumonia and begged guards to see a doctor because he couldn’t breathe.  Instead of complying with his request, staff accused the juvenile of faking it and forced him to do pushups in his own vomit.  Nine days later, the juvenile died due to medical neglect.

YSI’s private for-profit juvenile prisons embody a horrific example of what happens when the government punts social services to private entities with little subsequent oversight.  Driven by their bottom line focus, Slattery’s facilities pay dismal wages to employees resulting in high staff turnover rates and leaving inexperienced and poorly trained guards left to supervise juvenile populations.  The resulting conditions are dangerous and unsatisfactory; juveniles are subject to extensive physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and deprivation, many times being forced to live in abysmal conditions with substandard basic necessities.  “When oversight is not as strong as it can be, companies are only going to be incentivized to do what the government that’s paying them makes them do.  And so in these cases if the oversight is lacking, if there is not constant monitoring, I think there is an incentive to cut costs and services.”

Even though the juvenile justice system was created with rehabilitative efforts in mind in an attempt to help youth become productive, law-abiding adults, “[p]rivate for-profit prisons squarely undermine good juvenile justice practices because these companies’ business models predicate high incarceration and recidivism rates for kids so that they can continue to fill beds in their facilities.  This might be the saddest profit motive ever.” Once states agree to these long-term contracts, they are obligated to fill the prison beds within these private facilities or else face penalties and pay for all unused, empty beds.  As a for-profit institution, YSI prisons benefit from keeping more people locked up.  In the words of Juvenile Judge Ron Alvarez, these institutions are like a third world country that is controlled by some type of evil power.  YSI’s juvenile facilities have violated and continue to violate numerous federal and state guidelines by frequently and unnecessarily using abusive treatments, the unavailability and inadequacy of programs and basic necessities such as food, and extremely violent confrontations between guards and youth, with reports showing that guards slap and choke juveniles even to the point of fracturing youth’s bones at times.

“Over the past quarter century, Slattery’s for-profit prison enterprises have run afoul of the Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas for alleged offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts.” Despite the allegations against YSI’s facilities, they are able to continue acquiring contracts through practices such as poor and sometimes even falsified documentation, neglecting to document serious events and scaring youth into not reporting incidents.  “The paperwork looked great, because someone was going around and spending overtime just to make sure that paperwork was correct.  If there was something missing, they would just forge it”, according to former supervisor for a YSI juvenile detention center, Angela Phillips.  Slattery is also able to avoid repercussion by pulling out of contracts before the government has a chance to take action.  Furthermore, a complete lack of governmental interest allows Slattery’s abusive institutions to remain viable placement for juvenile offenders.  Perhaps one of the most illustrative examples of this unsettling truth can be seen in youth facilities in Florida, where 100% of the state’s juveniles are housed in private prisons.  A Florida YSI facility with a history of numerous abuse allegations, had eight confirmed cases of child abuse in one year, which were all well documented.  In the same year, 96% of the staff left this facility.  Remarkably, the Department of Justice not only reinstated YSI’s contract, but also fired the monitor who reported the cases of abuse.  According to a former DOJ executive staffer, “They [FL] don’t want the providers to look bad, because they don’t have anyone else to provide this service. . . Bottom line, the state of Florida doesn’t want responsibility for these kids.”  Furthermore, Slattery has a tendency of acquiring powerful confederates within the government by making contributions to state candidates and committees.  Over the past 15 years, Slattery, his wife, and other YSI executives have donated in excess of $400,000 to Florida politicians, representing more than the combined donations of both Office Depot and Darden Restaurants, two of Florida’s largest Fortune 500 companies.

Marketing their institutions as able to provide benefits to taxpayers and produce better outcomes at lower costs than state run facilities, YSI’s claims have been severely undermined by an overabundance of evidence.  Generating some of the worst reoffending rates in the nation, more than 40% of juveniles housed in a YSI facility in Florida were rearrested and convicted of another crime within a year of their release in comparison to only 25% in New York, a state that has never utilized private prison facilities, within the same timeframe.  In an effort to cut costs, states that have turned to private for-profit prisons to house some of their most troubled youth are washing their hands of the responsibility to care for juvenile populations that could substantially benefit from rehabilitative efforts, yet they are essentially being left in the care of a man tainted with a horrific history who is focused solely on the bottom line.  “Quality assurance is looking at contract adherence, whether they’re meeting the general terms of the contract, not the goals of the rehabilitation of the youth.”

Although the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice recently announced they wouldn’t be renewing their contract with YSI for the facility that holds the title of having the highest rate of youth alleging sexual assaults in the country, with upwards of 30% alleging inappropriate sexual contact with staff, a spokesman for the Department claimed the decision was driven by the need to cut costs rather than due to the allegations of rampant sexual misconduct.  With little governmental interest or oversight in these private facilities, even after allegations of abuse and claims of inadequate programming and subpar conditions surface, Slattery, YSI, and other private juvenile institutions will have free reign to do as they please to our juvenile populations.  The overarching motives supporting the creation of a separate juvenile justice system are based on a juvenile’s unique salvageability, as their traits and characteristics are more malleable and transitory in nature and therefore are more susceptible to rehabilitative efforts than their adult counterparts.  With few rehabilitative programs in place in these private prisons and little to look forward to in terms of available opportunities upon release (especially without support and guidance), state’s current reliance on private prisons to “rehabilitate” our country’s juvenile populations is essentially ensuring that a large part of those released will return to some sort of detention down the road, whether it be juvenile or adult prison.  If the government can’t even show interest in providing programs, services, and adequate basic necessities to a population that has been shown to possess the unique ability to learn and grow from their past behaviors and mistakes, the possibility of a bright future for anyone, juveniles and society as a whole included, is bleak and dismal.  Studies have shown that youth incarceration doesn’t reduce recidivism rates, doesn’t benefit public safety, and exposes youth in confinement to further abuse and violence.  Exhibiting almost an addictive approach towards incarceration, it seems as if the United States has moved from an attitude based on problem solving towards a more repressive philosophy that essentially serves to destroy a promising and hopeful juvenile population.  If there’s any hope for a brighter future for anyone involved, there needs to be a collective understanding that oppressive incarceration, especially in abusive for-profit private prisons, is not the answer.