Some reforms are happening in the Texas juvenile justice system, says the Associated Press. Security cameras are being added to monitor lockups, and the prisoner population has been shrunk to a more manageable level. A year ago, the Texas Youth Commission had 4,700 inmates from ages 10 to 21. With courts now barred from sentencing youths to the agency for misdemeanors and policies to parole inmates more quickly, the population has dropped to about 2,500 in lockups and a few hundred more at halfway houses.
Critics now complain that the commission has turned into a carbon copy of the adult prison system, with a focus on punishment instead of rehabilitation. The new man in charge of reforming the agency, juvenile justice expert Richard Nedelkoff, has come under scrutiny from lawmakers who have lingering questions related to his former work with a private firm in Florida. “It’s an agency with a lot of wounds to heal,” Nedelkoff told a House subcommittee last week. “This is a bruised and damaged organization.” Pepper spray was used more than 1,220 times in 2007, compared with 196 incidents the year before. Officials said the goal was to reduce physical restraint-related injuries to inmates and staff. Critics consider using pepper spray on young offenders to be physical abuse. “It’s the high-tech equivalent of an old-fashioned butt kicking,” said Isela Gutierrez of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. The agency’s independent watchdog, Will Harrell, reported that the agency has increased reliance on solitary confinement for troublemakers and sometimes neglected their treatment.