ACLU Shares Findings of Two-Week Investigation of Girls in Texas Juvenile Justice System

May 24, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

AUSTIN, TX - As part of ongoing efforts to reform and restructure Texas’s juvenile justice system, today the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project released a preliminary report, A Blueprint for Meeting the Needs of Girls in TYC Custody. On Tuesday the ACLU briefed Texas Youth Commission (TYC) Conservator Jay Kimbrough, Acting Executive Director Ed Owens and new Chief Ombudsman Will Harrell on findings and recommendations in the report that resulted from a two-week investigation of all TYC detention facilities that house girls. The report was presented yesterday to key legislative staffers.

“Although TYC's legal duty is to rehabilitate delinquent children, in reality TYC facilities look and feel like prisons,” said Mie Lewis, Aryeh Neier Fellow with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Human Rights Watch. “Girls in particular are hurt, not helped, by a system that puts punishment before treatment.”

"We are concerned about the current shortfalls in TYC's provision of services to girls, and we will be monitoring the implementation of reforms closely to ensure our concerns are addressed," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas.  "TYC has a unique opportunity transform from a statewide embarrassment to a national model, and we are encouraged by the interest officials have shown in receiving information and assistance from advocacy groups like TCAJJ, TCJC and the ACLU."

A Blueprint for Meeting the Needs of Girls in TYC Custody included the following recommendations:

  • Girls in TYC custody are very likely to have experienced abuse prior to their placement; they need, but are not receiving, the individualized counseling necessary to cope with childhood disadvantage, familial abuse and psychological damage;
  • Major aspects of TYC, including its range of available placements for girls, its institutional culture and its rehabilitative programming, fall short of meeting the needs of girls; and
  • The ongoing disadvantage experienced by girls in TYC custody calls for the immediate appointment of a girls’ advocate within the agency.

The investigation was undertaken at the behest of Conservator Kimbrough by Lewis and her assistant Michele Batiste, a former TYC inmate and participant on the Conservator Case Review Panel.  Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, contributed to and edited the report, and the ACLU of Texas participated in the research.

Lewis said she was heartened by willingness of TYC Conservator Jay Kimbrough to allow fact-finding into conditions in TYC facilities. Lewis also observed the caring and dedication exhibited by many TYC workers. "TYC is broken but it can be fixed," said Lewis.

This summer, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles (TCAJJ), and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) plan to conduct further research into the special needs and problems of incarcerated girls. 

 “This excellent report provides a needed glimpse of a population that is too often forgotten within the juvenile justice system,” said Isela Gutiérrez, TCAJJ Coordinator, “We look forward to further developing this research and advocating for long-term reforms that will enable these girls to get the support they so badly need.”

A Blueprint for Meeting the Needs of Girls in TYC Custody is available at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/crimjustice/29875pub20070524.html

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