The U.S. Department of Justice said that they would be examining whether the children detained in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s (TJJD) lockups are protected from “physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation.”
This announcement comes after Devin King, 29, was arrested on October 8 for improper sexual activity with a person in custody. King allegedly touched the breast of an eighteen-year-old detainee while he was a detention officer. The agency said this incident was first reported in July.
In 2017, according to The Dallas Morning News, agency reports from the TJJD revealed that guards at the Gainesville State facility were allegedly sexually abusing the youth. In response, Governor Greg Abbott sent in Texas Rangers, which led to numerous arrests. A similar abuse scandal surfaced in 2007 as well.
Last year, Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas, two legal justice organizations, called for the federal government to step in, stating the TJJD allowed “grievous violations of children’s constitutional rights.”
Brett Merfish, director of Texas Appleseed, advocates eliminating lockups entirely and keeping children in their home communities instead. “We’re not helping them,” he said. “We’re hurting them more by putting them in these facilities.”
TJJD’s executive director, Camille Cain, said in a statement that the agency will cooperate fully with the investigation.
“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,” she said. “That has been the agency’s mission since I joined TJJD, and it remains our constant focus.”