AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday called for an investigation into the state’s juvenile detention system in the wake of four correctional officers recently being arrested on charges of sexual misconduct with youths in lockup.
The charges have rekindled worries about Texas’ juvenile detention system that was upended a decade ago by a widespread sex scandal involving at least 13 boys.
Since June, four former Texas Juvenile Justice Department officers have been charged with improper or attempted improper sexual activity with a person in custody. A fifth officer was convicted in July on similar charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Abbott asking the Texas Rangers, the state’s top law enforcement unit, follows increasing concern from lawmakers and calls by juvenile justice reform groups to close the state’s five youth lockups. About 1,400 young offenders remain in Texas’ youth correctional facilities — far less than the roughly 5,000 that were in the system before an abuse scandal that began in 2004 set off sweeping reforms.
“Recent reports of sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships by state employees at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department are reprehensible and necessitate an appropriate response,” Abbott said in his letter. “Action is needed to guarantee the protection of the youth in the care and custody of the State of Texas.”
The juvenile justice agency welcomed the investigation, said spokeswoman Carolyn Beck.
“We appreciate added law enforcement support and involvement and look forward to working with the Rangers,” she said.
In November, an email from the agency to lawmakers disclosed the arrests of juvenile correctional officers from the Gainesville State School, which is about 70 miles north of Dallas. It was first reported by The Dallas Morning News.
A decade ago, authorities believe at least 13 boys were sexually abused within the agency formerly known as the Texas Youth Commission. The case led to accusations of a cover-up and reports exposing lax medical care, beatings, and a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers.
Republican state Rep. James White, who chairs the House corrections committee, said closing more lockups may be an answer. “We need to look at it,” he said.