Abuse at the Texas Youth Commission: The Price of Neglecting Government's Responsibilities

Posted on 3/15/2007 3:56 PM

Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski recently testified to the State Legislature about his investigation into abuse at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), stating, "When I interviewed the victims in this case, I saw kids with fear in their eyes, kids who knew they were trapped in an institution within a system that would not respond to their cries for help."

His testimony was part of the daily revelations about sexual abuse at TYC that have horrified me and my staff. We have learned that as far back as 2005, an investigation by the Texas Rangers found that TYC administrators had repeated sexual contact with incarcerated youth under their supervision. The press has reported 94 confirmed cases of sexual abuse but fewer than 15 cases in which charges have been filed. TYC officials reportedly tried to hide critical information about the investigations, and the Governor's office has failed to launch an independent investigation or go along with the Legislature's demands for new leadership at TYC.

This crisis is a product of mismanagement, incompetence and a lack of accountability, but it is also the result of a governing philosophy that prioritizes lower taxes and smaller budgets above all else.

Even before the sexual abuse stories hit the front pages, children's advocates and some legislators tried to warn that budget cuts had dangerously crippled TYC. TYC didn't have enough staff to keep themselves or the incarcerated children safe and the staff never received the training they needed. These challenges, along with low pay and benefits, led to sky-high rates of turnover, further compounding the problem. The end result is juvenile offenders that are not only the victims of reprehensible abuse, but are also less likely to turn their lives around and become rehabilitated, contributing members of society.

Juvenile Corrections Officers (JCOs) from TYC recently visited my office and asked for the training and support that they need to keep themselves and the children safe. I believe we need to do a better job of making these smart investments, protecting the vulnerable, and listening to the people on the frontlines, whether it's the children that Brian Burzynski interviewed or the JCOs who visited the Capitol.

My staff and I will be furthering our investigation into the TYC tragedy and identifying solutions. I will keep you updated on our progress.