Five years ago the number of youths locked up in Texas detention centers was 4,700. Now, it's less than 1,500. “We've come a long way,” Benet Magnuson of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition tells the Amarillo Globe-News. “Thanks to a series of reforms, we've taken many kids out of state-run facilities and keep them closer to their homes where they are helped or rehabilitated.” Reforms that turned a dysfunctional system into what former critics consider a model for other states would not have happened if reports of widespread sexual and physical abuse had not come to light in 2007.
“What happened to those kids was horrible and the state had no choice but to act,” Magnuson said of newspaper reports that some prison officials had long coerced incarcerated youths into having sex with them. The state acted quickly, mainly because the sexual and physical abuse scandal blew up barely a month after the Texas Legislature had begun its biennial session. Outraged legislators rushed bills aimed at overhauling the corrupt juvenile justice system and at punishing perpetrators or officials who were aware of or suspected the abuse but did nothing to stop it. “There were some people who were asleep at the switch,” said state Sen. Kel Seliger, then-vice chairman of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee.