Contrary to promises for reform, the Texas Youth Commission increasingly is isolating unruly offenders in solitary cells for days or weeks, sometimes violating its own rules, the agency’s independent watchdog said, according to the Houston Chronicle. In a scathing depiction of life inside the troubled agency, ombudsman Will Harrell said the agency has embraced isolation as punishment, turning two prisons into de facto segregation camps where hard-to-manage youths languish in individual cells up to 23 hours a day.
“You can put kids in isolation to separate them from other youth or from staff for safety reasons, but you can’t just leave them there,” he said. “And don’t lessen their programming. You enhance it. You address the issue that’s driving the kids to be disruptive.” Records obtained by the Chronicle indicate that the number of inmates in isolation has been steadily creeping upward since August, from 52 then to 82 now. The ombudsman’s assessment comes less than a year after an abuse scandal rocked the agency and prompted state leaders to call for top to bottom reforms. It also comes less than a month after a new conservator, Richard Nedelkoff, a well-regarded juvenile justice expert, took charge. Nedelkoff said he was distressed to learn of Harrell’s concerns but needed time to assess the allegations.