Texas Senator Seeks to Consolidate Youth Jails

A shuttered adult state prison would become the new single home of high-risk juvenile inmates in Texas, if one lawmaker gets his way.State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, is proposing consolidating the five current juvenile lockups around the state into the Bartlett State Jail, about 50 miles north of Austin. Whitmire announced the proposal this week during a senate hearing with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Whitmire tells KTRH that the state has reduced its juvenile inmate population drastically thanks to criminal justice reforms, from more than 5,000 to less than 1,000. But those remaining are now housed at five disparate locations that are understaffed and chaotic. "The population has become so tough, because we've narrowed it down to convicted felons, and we haven't created an environment where we can control them," he says.

In fact, the juvenile prisons are so dangerous and out of control that it has become nearly impossible to retain staff. "A lot of gang activity, drug use, threatening staff members," he says. "(The inmates) are actually getting tattoos while they're in there, if you can imagine---gang affiliation tattoos. And you can't hire enough people to work there because they are afraid."

As for the five current youth lockups, Whitmire proposes turning them into prisons for older inmates who need certain accommodations like air conditioning.

So far, the TJJD has not committed to Whitmire's idea, but he believes the governor and other state leaders will eventually be on board. "The good news is we've got the (juvenile prison) population down to 834, about the size of a small junior high," he says. "Now we need to confine them in a tightly controlled environment."

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