Sexual-abuse scandal rocks Texas juvenile prison system

While prison rape occurs in every state, one can hardly be surprised this “scandal” occurred in Texas. As the Houston Chronicle reports:

For at least two years, investigators say, boys at a juvenile prison in the West Texas desert were summoned from their dorms late at night and taken to darkened conference rooms, offices and ball fields for sex with two of the institution’s top administrators.The boys told their parents, their teachers, any staff member who would listen. A few diligent staff members took their complaints to their supervisors. But the allegations were largely covered up until last month, when they exploded in the biggest scandal ever to engulf the Texas juvenile prison system.

The allegations became public when the Dallas Morning News cited a never-released 2005 Texas Rangers report that said 13 boys were molested at the West Texas State school, a red-brick institution ringed by razor wire in a desolate part of the state. Since then, others have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at other juvenile prisons across Texas.

According to the Dallas Morning News more than 750 rape complaints were filed against guards from the Texas Youth Commission. Apparently only 88 acts have been confirmed, but the likelihood is that the majority of the accusations are true. While guards claim allegations of rape and sexual abuse are made as retaliation, given the fact that prison rape is rarely prosecuted, abusers are rarely fired and rarely reprimanded, such claims carry little weight. After all, a false allegation is only effective if one will be believed. When it comes to prison rape, particularly the rape of juveniles, that often is not the case. It literally takes the rape of several of boys to even raise an eyebrow several years after the fact. And yet even with the media attention and the pretend anger of lawmakers nothing will likely change.

Some people are astonished by this kind of cover-up. One remains amazed that anyone would think that juvenile inmates are treated better than their adult counterparts. Perhaps people are fooled by the name “detention center” and all the talk of rehabilitation, education and therapy. Certainly the latter occurs to an extent. Despite of the overall abusive nature that exists, some people genuinely do help incarcerated children. Yet one must live in an impressive state of delusion if one believes those people are the norm and not the exception.

But the “cover-up” continues:

At the Pyote prison, acting Superintendent Curtis Simmons said at a staff meeting last week that what happened two years ago “was a shame, but it is no reflection on what we do” now.

“This is a kid facility,” Simmons said. “We treat kids with compassion.”

Pardon the language, but bullshit. These children are in prison. When all is said and done, they are treated no differently than their adult counterparts. These children are warehoused, disregarded and abused because as a society anything out of sight is out of our mind. No one really cares what happens so long as they are punished for whatever it is they did and they keep it to themselves. This “scandal” is not about whether people knew what was going on and did nothing. Of course they knew. We all know what goes on in prison. We all know that institutions that allow one person to have complete power over another breeds abuse. No, the issue here is that now our illusion has been broken. We contented ourselves by believing all was well and now we cannot avoid that all was in fact not well.

And it is no coincidence that the children the TYC incarcerates are those considered the worst of the worst. As is often the case in general society, predators prey on the already hurt and already damaged. In a way, as our society has shifted from trying to actually rehabilitate children to punishing them as harshly as possible it has created a system built around abuse. That makes the lawmakers’ anger rather curious. One wonders if they are genuinely upset since it was their laws that created the situation in the first place. Of all the heads that may roll, one doubts it will be any of the people who pushed for harsher, longer prison sentences or who shifted money away from probationary programs to fund the building of more prisons.

Instead it will be people who bore some responsibility but who are fired after the fact purely for face value:

Since the scandal broke in February, Executive Director Dwight Harris has resigned, TYC board chairman Pete C. Alfaro has been fired, and Lemuel “Chip” Harrison, who led the West Texas State School when the abuses allegedly occurred before he was promoted to one of four directors of juvenile corrections, has been suspended.

One interesting point the Dallas Morning News mentioned was this:

About two-thirds of the TYC employees disciplined for sexual contact with youths since 2000 are women.

Sexual abuse by TYC employees is rarely prosecuted, although it is a felony. The agency does not track prosecutions. But a check of public databases by The News found that only five TYC staffers were convicted of related charges in the last seven years.

All received probation. None went to prison.

Whether this rate of female abusers will hold true once all the allegations are investigated remains to be seen. But one cannot ignore the power dynamics. Here is an instance where women are in positions of power and apparently they behave exactly as men will: they abuse their power. While their gender may protect them from prosecution to an extent, the real protection comes from the state attempting to maintain their illusion.


9 thoughts on “Sexual-abuse scandal rocks Texas juvenile prison system

  1. I think, a part of the problem is the victims/survivors are only boys … mere males. That factor does, sadly, play a large part in such things. Should such a scandal arise in a girl’s facility, we can be sure the response would be very different.

    Until we can get rid of THAT form of sexism we will go on having serious problems.

  2. In this case I think it really does have more to do with the state trying to cover its own ass rather than sexism or gender. A few years ago there was a situation at one of the juvenile mental institutions where the staff abused the kids and basically used them as guinea pigs for new drugs. The state went well out of its way to try and keep the media silent. That included shuffling the girl at the center of the case from foster home to foster home for months.

    The other thing is that the Texas facility does house girls, so it is possible they were victims of abuse as well. However, I do agree that if the victims were mostly female the response would be much different than what we have seen. I also think that attitudes about males and the general treatment they receive played a substantial role in causing the abuse to go on for so long.

  3. I worked for Chip Harrison when he was commandant at the Sheffield Boot Camp, Sheffield, Texas. I was in management and respected the man for his forthrightness and fairness. I cannot, at this point, think that Chip did any wrongdoing. Of course I was not there (@ WTSS) and understand that over the years folks change. I would, however, venture to say that Chip acted within Texas Youth Commission policies. He always preached that we should know the policies. I hope this gets resolved quickly.

  4. All of these areas of research represent crucial information currently being ignored by Congress. The present research bodes poorly for the large numbers of juveniles who will be transferred to adult prisons, or the children who will be jailed alongside adults under proposed legislation.

  5. I worked for Chip Harrison when he was commandant at the Sheffield Boot Camp, Sheffield, Texas. I was in management and respected the man for his forthrightness and fairness. I cannot, at this point, think that Chip did any wrongdoing. Of course I was not there (@ WTSS) and understand that over the years folks change. I would, however, venture to say that Chip acted within Texas Youth Commission policies. He always preached that we should know the policies. I hope this gets resolved quickly.

    If Harrison acted within Texas Youth Commission policies then one must wonder just what those policies are. It is sadly common knowledge that rape occurs in juvenile prisons. One would assume this would be better known by those who work within the system. One would also assume that those in positions to prevent rape and abuse would do everything to stop it. Based on what has been released to date, Harrison apparently turned a blind eye to it.

  6. All of these rumors about the staff of the texas youth commission (TYC) are true i know many people that were in the institution since the age of 14, and many of them would tell me when they would shower the staff or gaurds would always look at them in a disrespectful manner, also the staff would bring narcotics for the juveniles just so they could do certain things with the juveniles. And if you know a person who works for the texas youth commission (TYC) you should think twice about who you hang out with…

  7. I think this is sick…this is only confirming the fact that there is NO reform in prison. This why young men and boys go into these detention centers on charges of marijuana and come out murderers.
    It is a shame. I thought prison was supposed to teach these offenders to obey they law not hide behind it to commit greater more heinous crimes.
    Any allegation of sexual molestation or rape should be taken very seriously. I do think these boys are telling the truth, and these men who are committing these acts…God says it would be better for you to have a millstone chained to your neck and for you be dropped into the abyss than to suffer the eternity of hell The Almighty has planned for the ppl who commit acts such as these.
    Is there no one we can trust on this earth anymore???

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