The Texas Youth Commission may rely more on pepper spray – and less on physical takedowns and restraints – to subdue unruly juvenile prisoners, says the Dallas Morning News. Juvenile justice advocates call the practice barbaric and say it’s not the message the scandal-weary agency should send to inmates or their families. “This is not the lesser of two evils – it’s not a non-physical interaction between staff and youth,” said Isela Gutierrez of the Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles. “It’s a very violent experience for the person being pepper-sprayed.”
Under current guidelines, guards can use pepper spray only when an inmate is putting himself or others at serious risk, and after “less restrictive interventions” have failed. Spokesman Jim Hurley said the agency must “do something to cut down on the number of injuries to youth and staff in restraint situations” and that officials are reviewing the policy to see if pepper spray can help. Last year, 16 percent of commission employees filed workers’ compensation claims, with most injuries suffered while restraining an inmate or breaking up a fight. “The result, generally, with pepper spray, is that we get compliance immediately, without injury,” Hurley said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do we go in with a bunch of people and try to do a takedown, or do we use pepper spray?’ ” Juvenile justice advocates say pepper spray should not be used on youths with asthma, diabetes or mental illness.