Justice Dept. to Investigate Reports of Abuse in Texas’ Juvenile Prisons

“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,” Camille Cain, the executive director of the Texas department, said in a statement.

While the U.S. Justice Department and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, have opposed each other on several high-profile issues, including the state’s new law banning nearly all abortions, they have both sought to address the problems with the state’s juvenile prisons.

In July, Mr. Abbott asked the Texas Rangers, a division of the state’s Department of Public Safety, to investigate Juvenile Justice Department staff members over allegations of illegal conduct with incarcerated children.

“Child welfare is a bipartisan issue, and that makes it possible to see reform in a politically divided state,” said Brett M. Merfish, the director of youth justice at Texas Appleseed, a criminal justice and legal aid group.

Texas Appleseed worked with another group, Disability Rights Texas, on a complaint that detailed staff-on-youth sexual assault, physical abuse and gang activity at the facilities, as well as chronic understaffing and inadequate mental health care.

The advocacy groups sent their complaint to the Justice Department last fall, and Ms. Merfish said that she was encouraged by the investigation and hoped it signaled the beginning of real change.

“This isn’t a new problem in Texas,” Ms. Merfish said.

Chad E. Meacham, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said that many children are already traumatized when they enter the Texas criminal justice system.

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