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Troubled Texas Juvenile Prisons Sending More Youth To Adult Units

Desperate to restore order in the five youth prisons it operates, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) has been asking judges to send more of its most troubled kids into the adult prison system. Last year, a depleted workforce left children locked in cells up to 23 hours a day, using water bottles and lunch trays as toilets. Self-harm behavior skyrocketed among the nearly 600 youths held in state facilities, nearly half of whom spent some time on suicide watch. The agency has scrambled to recruit and retain officers. One approach to alleviating the chaos has been to shift youth out of the juvenile prison system into the adult one. Lawmakers and prosecutors say the idea will help rid TJJD of its most disruptive and violent detainees. “The thought was how can we get these 10% of kids out of population, so the kids who are doing well and are being rehabilitated aren’t being swept in with the kids who are assaulting staff, assaulting kids,” said Jack Choate of the Texas’ Special Prosecution Unit, which pursues crimes committed in prison, the Texas Tribune reports.

Youth justice advocates condemned transferring more children from the juvenile justice department — which has a mission of rehabilitation and treatment — into the harsher, punitive adult system, run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Children shouldn’t be tossed aside because they are failing in a failing system, advocates argue. They say it’s not just the most dangerous youth being transferred, but also sex-trafficking victims and children with severe mental health needs who need the most help but may react negatively to being restrained or verbally accosted by staff, a common occurrence in prison. Multiple studies show children incarcerated in adult facilities are significantly more likely to kill themselves than those housed in juvenile facilities. Texas’ adult prison system is well known for its severe conditions, and prisoners are typically checked on much less regularly. “It seems we really are just using TDCJ as a way to throw kids away,” said Alycia Castillo of the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. “My suggestion would be to actually treat the kids that have those most concerning behaviors. … Locking them in a cell in an adult prison to be forgotten about is not the way to do that.”


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