In August 2022, an investigation by the Texas Tribune revealed that about 600 children in Texas’ 5 state secure juvenile detention facilities are living in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Incident reports revealed that kids in understaffed facilities were stuck in their cells for over 22 hours a day and were unable to access bathrooms. High numbers of these incarcerated children were on suicide watch, and some had harmed themselves.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) was already under investigation by the federal Department of Justice. That investigation, launched in October 2021, is examining “whether Texas provides children confined in the facilities reasonable protection from physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation." The investigation is also examining "whether Texas provides adequate mental health care.”
The treatment of children in these youth prisons is inhumane and unacceptable. It represents a critical failure by state leadership and by an agency that claims to prioritize rehabilitation. Although leaders have excused these pervasive and decades-long issues by blaming current low staffing levels at TJJD, the Finish the 5 Coalition is demanding a culture shift.
- Shut down TJJD’s 5 state secure institutions by 2030 through a thoughtful, staggered closure plan
- Invest in building communities’ infrastructure to appropriately address the needs of children who would have been sent to TJJD, and allow recapture from closed facilities to reimburse the costs for community-based resources
- Enact policy reforms that decriminalize youth, diverting children from the criminal punishment system altogether
In October 2022, the Texas Center for Justice and Equity released a policy brief outlining the crisis in TJJD and a plan to address it through the three demands above.
Take action to free Texas kids
Share your story
Do you have personal experience with TJJD? If you or a loved one have been involved in Texas' youth justice system, we want to hear from you. Below, you can share your story anonymously (we won't receive your contact information and won't share it) or share and join our campaign (we'll receive your information, but you can choose whether we'll use your name when sharing). Please note: The Texas Center for Justice and Equity does not provide legal assistance, and we are unable to provide individualized help to people seeking information about involvement in the justice system.
Resources, news articles, and Finish the 5 Coalition in action
- TOOLKIT: Get the info you need to testify at the legislature | Click Here »
- VIDEO: Watch youth and impacted speakers lead the first #FinishThe5 Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol | Click Here »
- BLOG POST: Read a blog post highlighting the #FinishThe5 campaign so far | Click Here »
- IG LIVE: Watch a live conversation about #FinishThe5 between ALYM's Krupali and TCJE's Amonie on Instagram | Click Here »
- ARTICLE: Read the Texas Tribune's original story on conditions in TJJD | Click Here »
- PRESS RELEASE: Read our press release announcing the coalition | Click Here »
- POLICY BRIEF: Check out our policy brief exploring this issue further | Click Here »
- WEBINAR: Watch our webinar explaining the crisis in TJJD and introducing this campaign | Click Here »
Below are some quick facts on Texas' youth justice system:
There are five juvenile prisons in Texas, located in mostly rural areas throughout the state. They are located in Edinburg, Gainesville, Giddings, Mart, and Brownwood. Texas also operates other youth facilities, including halfway houses.
In summer 2022, kids were trapped in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, unable to leave even to use the bathroom. They used lunch trays and water bottles to relieve themselves, or were forced to urinate on their clothing (which they were not able to change afterwards).
Even as the number of children incarcerated in TJJD has decreased, the percentage of incarcerated kids on suicide alert has risen to almost half of the total population. Kids have self-harmed using pen springs and pieces of metal.
Kids as young as 10 years old can be sent to juvenile prisons in Texas. This is the "lower age" of juvenile jurisdiction. Texas is also one of only 3 states that automatically charges 17-year-olds as adults, and puts them into adult prisons.
Youth Justice History
Learn about the history of the youth punishment system in Texas from our report series, "Protecting Texas' Most Precious Resource: A History of Juvenile Justice in Texas."