The state of Texas has essentially controlled her son’s life since he was 11. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department was supposed to keep him safe and help him get better. It has failed at every turn.
It started with the cuts — dozens of angry slices on his forearms.
It was December 2020, and the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility had stopped visitation due to COVID-19. Keith, then 14, says he was supposed to get two FaceTime calls a week with his mother but his requests for the calls were denied. It made him angry, so he cut himself.
“I done it because even if you talk to [the staff], it’s like they don’t realize what I really want. So I had to do this just to show them,” he said.
In the following weeks, there were more cuts — deep, fresh wounds over barely healed scars. By September 2021, it had escalated. Keith started inserting objects in his urethra — bits of metal, glass and wood. He has now been hospitalized and had surgery 12 times for incidents of severe self-harm, including three times in March 2022 alone. After each hospitalization, he has returned to Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, where the cycle repeats.
“I want to go home,” he said. “That’s all.”
Texas has essentially controlled Keith’s life for four years. He was removed from his home and placed in TJJD ostensibly to help him, “to provide a safe environment where youth in the agency’s care and custody receive individualized education, treatment,” as TJJD’s mission states.
His mother says she begged Keith’s court-appointed attorney to try to get him sent to a mental health facility instead of TJJD. She said the lawyer, who did not respond to numerous requests for comment, told her, “He will get the mental health help he needs at TJJD.”
Instead, the agency has failed Keith at every turn and provided an environment where the trauma, isolation and other issues have caused his mental health to decline and left his mother terrified that he’ll hurt himself to the point of permanent physical damage. (The Texas Tribune is not using the full names of Keith or his mother, Amnisty, because he is a juvenile.)
Because TJJD cannot meet the legally mandated 1:8 adult to youth ratio to provide safe supervision, children have been locked in their rooms from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. the following day. Some spend as long as 22 hours a day isolated in their rooms. Brittany Norman, an attorney at Disability Rights Texas, says youth at Giddings have been forced to go to the bathroom in bags and cups because they haven’t had access to toilets between those hours.
Read the full article, A mother watches helplessly as her teenage boy deteriorates in a Texas youth prison, on the Texas Tribune website.