Facing an unjust justice system

Editorial Board

Texas teens statewide are organizing a movement to reform the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) after it has come under scrutiny for mistreating and neglecting the minors under its watch. On the first day of the legislative session in Texas, a storm was already brewing on the steps of the Capitol building. According to the Texas Tribune, members of the “Finish the 5” advocacy group held a protest on the Capitol grounds, urging lawmakers to consider serious reforms of the system along with complete closure of the remaining five juvenile detention centers in the state of Texas. This movement, largely managed and operated by Austin-area teens, has committed to raising support and awareness around the issue. 

The TJJD has been plagued with scandal after scandal. The department has been criticized for its understaffed facilities, mistreatment of the individuals in its care and several cases of sexual abuse within the facilities. According to investigations conducted by the Texas Tribune, juvenile detention centers routinely keep kids in their cells for over 20 hours with no bathroom breaks or opportunities to shower. Children in the department’s care also attempt to harm themselves at an unprecedented rate due to neglect, with around half of the kids in these centers being placed on suicide watch last year. The TJJD has taken limited measures in an attempt to address the problem, with the department raising employees’ wages. Despite this, staffing remains a significant issue, with the department maintaining a 70% turnover rate

As citizens, we cannot continue to accept the failures of our juvenile justice system. Instead, we must insist that funding be allocated to improve the staffing of these facilities, as well as push for reforms to the system to promote the well-being of the individuals under its watch. Regardless of their conviction status, these children deserve to be treated with dignity and empathy. 

You can find the contact information for your local representative’s office at https://house.texas.gov/members/ and https://senate.texas.gov/members.php.