Texas Youth Prisons Criticized for Abuse - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/1/07 - Austin, Texas

Texas Youth Prisons Criticized for Abuse

Gov. Rick Perry replaced the chairman of the state's juvenile prisons board Wednesday over a report that the agency covered up sex abuse of inmates, but lawmakers demanded bigger changes.

The Texas Senate held a rare evening session and approved a resolution urging Perry to overhaul the Texas Youth Commission by replacing the seven-member board and the executive director with an independent administrator who could investigate and fire employees who covered up abuse.

'We gotta come in and clean house,' added Sen. Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa, a Democrat who helped bring the allegations to light.

A recent discussion of the agency's budget drew attention to a 2005 Texas Rangers investigation that found the assistant superintendent and the principal at the West Texas State School in Pyote had repeated sexual contact with inmates.

Lawmakers also recently learned an internal investigation found that many prison staffers had complained about the abuse to their immediate bosses and to officials in Austin, but for more than a year, no one in charge did anything to stop it.

Neither of the investigations has resulted in criminal charges, although a special prosecutor is on the case, said Sen. John Whitmire, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The officials allegedly involved in the sexual activity resigned in 2005.

The discovery of the scandal led to last week's resignation of executive director Dwight Harris. Perry wants the deputy director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to serve as acting executive director.

A legislative panel _ made up of the lieutenant governor, the House speaker and four lawmakers _ were expected to meet early Thursday and recommend that the governor take more action.

Chairman Pete C. Alfaro insisted he did not know about the extent of the sex abuse until recently. He said he would resign from the board as soon as his removal as chairman was effective. Neither he nor Perry spokesman Ted Royer knew when that would happen.

'This agency has not been headed in the right direction, and that needs to change,' Royer said.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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