Located an hour and change north of downtown, Gainesville State School has been subject of a few revelatory reports in recent years.
An independent ombudsman for the Texas Juvenile Justice System has turned up abuse—even accusations that staff has called for assault “hits” on youth—at the center. The Dallas Morning News’ investigative team in 2017 revealed a culture of abuse, fighting, sexual activity between staff and youth, and remarkably high staff turnover. (At least four staffers faced prison time and the superintendent and other top employees were recently fired.) While the stories have piled up out of Gainesville, the issues appear to span the state’s five still-standing youth prisons.
A report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs brings us another angle at the dysfunction. According to a national survey of youth in custody, 16 percent of the kids at Gainesville State School say they’ve been sexually assaulted. Those numbers are, unfortunately, right in line with three of the state’s other four youth lock-ups: McClennan (16.1 percent), Evins (13.5 percent), and Ron Jackson (14 percent). Giddings (2.5 percent) appears to be the exception.
These numbers are sure to add to growing momentum to throw out the juvenile prison system altogether. From the Texas Observer, which has been on top of the issue:
Michele Deitch, an expert on prison oversight who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, hopes that the high rates of sexual abuse will bolster calls from advocates to dissolve the juvenile prison system and house the remaining youth at smaller urban facilities closer to their homes, which would provide better treatment and mental health services. “Texas is one of the few states that still has these really large congregate facilities for juveniles, and that’s where we’re seeing these awful numbers,” she said. “If these numbers are correct, Texas is really bad. One out of six, one out of seven kids getting sexually assaulted? None of us would ever accept that if those were our kids.”
Find the Bureau of Justice Statistics report here.