Death row inmates in Texas are given at least an hour a week outdoors. Hardened criminals in California’s San Quentin prison get 10 hours. Kids at a Dallas County correctional center for boys went months, sometimes more than a year, without going outdoors more than a few times, the Dallas Morning News reports. For years, boys at the Lyle B. Medlock Youth Treatment Center were rarely allowed outdoors, say former guards, probation officers and families of incarcerated teens. One boy said he was locked up for nearly 10 months and wasn’t let outside for exercise once. A state-funded watchdog agency warned the head of the Dallas County Juvenile Department, Terry Smith, repeatedly for a year about the lack of outdoor time, and she did nothing. She said she didn’t read the watchdog’s reports. The Morning News gathered records on the facility after a sex scandal came to light in May. Smith says she brought accountability to Medlock after that scandal. Records indicate the boys have been let outdoors more.
Smith won’t guarantee that boys at Medlock receive as much time outdoors as dangerous adults inside maximum-security prisons, even though her policy said the facility’s outdoor recreation area should be used daily. “I don’t want to give a number, a limitation, an expectation, because [the managers] have to run their building,” she said. “I’m not going to say it has to be four to six times a month.” Widely accepted standards say incarcerated youth should be allowed outdoors daily. Experts and youth advocates expressed outrage. “You’re taking the most vulnerable youth, who are most in need of healing, rehabilitative services, and you’re doing something that you know is not going to improve their state,” said Lindsey Linder of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “It should be criminal.”