The Austin American-Statesman says use of chemicals to control unruly inmates has become increasingly routine inside Texas’ troubled youth lockups and a videotaped confrontation between warders and an agitated youth inmate at one facility has intensified debate over the practice. According to the newspaper, on the video, the agitated youth is banging on his steel cell door, shouting epithets through the missing Plexiglas window and holding the door shut. After a few minutes, a cluster of Texas Youth Commission guards outside his solitary cell appeared to grow impatient. “We’re gonna spray you,” they yelled at the youth several before wresting the door open and pinning him to the concrete floor. When he jerked once again, the paper said, the guards hit him with pepper spray.
After the state pledged to adopt a best-practices model for reform several months ago, its proposal to liberalize the use of pepper spray drew scorn and derision from corrections experts across the country. Pepper spray has been banned in juvenile lockups in Washington state, and its use has been restricted in California and other states. Although the Youth Commission’s increased use of pepper spray has been documented – court testimony two weeks ago revealed that more than 1,200 reports have been logged this year through October, compared with 200 all of last year – the videotape provides graphic details about how it is being used.