E-NEWS - 2011

Building Safer Facilities for Texas Youth 

I am delighted to share some good news from Texas -- a state where JDI has fought for decades to end rampant sexual abuse of inmates.

In truth, we tend to expect Texas corrections leaders to be unwelcoming of advocates, to resist change. That's what often happens in troubled systems, where leaders are more worried about liability and public embarrassment than they are about keeping inmates safe.

In recent months, we have been very happy to see some of our stereotypes about Texas shattered.

Remember the Texas Youth Commission (TYC)? The TYC was rocked by scandal a few years ago, when it became clear that widespread, systemic abuse of kids in its care had been occurring for years. JDI was among many others who openly criticized the TYC for its disgraceful failure to stop its staff from raping children.

Yet, just last week, JDI was part of a training team organized by the Moss Group, with the support of the National Institute of Corrections, which traveled to Texas to provide training to TYC staff on how to work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth -- some of the kids who are at the highest risk for sexual abuse. The TYC even allowed us to bring a survivor of sexual abuse in youth detention --Troy Isaac -- to serve as one of the trainers. 

Troy at TYC
Troy Isaac with TYC Staff

"I was raped by gang members in a youth facility at the age of 12. That first assault turned my life into chaos. I spent 24 years in detention, always for nonviolent crimes," explained Isaac. "The only good that has come of all those years is that I'm now able to help prevent the sexual abuse of other kids. I'm pleased to have been received by the TYC staff with such respect and understanding, and I hope that now they will see that there are boys and girls in their facilities who may be as scared and vulnerable as I once was."

I can't tell you how pleased I am to be able to say that the TYC -- once the epitome of a failed system -- finally seems to be changing.

Passionate, committed leaders in Texas are opening up the TYC to outside influences, to fresh perspectives about how to uphold everyone's absolute right to safety and dignity, to new policies and practices. TYC Director Cherie Townsend explains:

"As we work to ensure the sexual safety of youth and to provide expanded opportunities for rehabilitation and successful re-entry, we have come to appreciate and value the role of helpful advocates, such as JDI.  Our most recent training resulted in a much deeper understanding of the needs of our youth and the harm that results when they are not safe.  I am confident that our ongoing dialogue and work with JDI is resulting in improved policies and practices." 

Sexual abuse in detention is a problem we can solve, in Texas and nationwide. At JDI, we will keep fighting until we have ended this crisis, once and for all.

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