Detention Reforms in Texas Failing to Protect Juvenile Offenders

In 2007, the Texas legislature initiated extensive reforms of the juvenile justice system in an effort to protect youth offenders and ensure better management by the TX Juvenile Justice Department.

The reforms were a result of a sexual abuse scandal and concealment by top officials, which necessitated new safety measures at the state-run facilities. The reforms restructured the program to focus on community-based rehabilitation instead of incarceration. Some changes included closing a number of juvenile detention centers, incarcerating fewer youths, implementing supervised release of youths in their own homes or halfway houses and incarcerating juveniles convicted of a felony or those determined to be a threat to public safety.

Despite Reforms, Youth Offenders at Risk

However, recent information has become known that these reforms have not been working as intended, many of the reforms being ignored completely. Some of the allegations reported include:

  • Youths controlling the culture of the facilities
  • Youths being "bought and owned" for money, drugs and cigarettes by other incarcerated juveniles
  • Failure of staff to control inmates
  • Lack of safety for youths and staff members
  • Bullying of juveniles
  • Food extortion
  • General fear for wellbeing and safety
  • Other safety reform violations, such as staff to juvenile offender ratios

Consequently, further legislative investigation is being conducted into the claims of gang activity and safety violations at state-run juvenile detention centers in Texas. Members of the legislature want to know what is going on at these facilities, why reforms have been ignored and why members of the corrections agency have not taken action to rectify the unsafe activities and conditions.

In addition, a lawsuit has been filed against the agency for wrongful termination and illegal retaliation. Stan DeGerolami, a former supervisor for the youth corrections agency, claims he followed proper procedures and reported the reform violations and juvenile detention safety concerns to his superiors; after working for the agency for almost 20 years, he was terminated shortly after reporting the violations.

The juvenile detention program in Texas is intended to rehabilitate youths and help them to become responsible law-abiding adults. State run lock-up facilities should be a safe place for offenders and staff members. Unfortunately, it seems this is not occurring and youth detention centers are a place run by bullying, violence and fear.

If your minor child has been charged with a crime, it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney to help build a strong defense and protect your child's rights. If your child is a juvenile offender who has been incarcerated and you are concerned for his or her safety, speak to an attorney about your legal options.