DOJ Opens Statewide Investigation into Abuse of Youth in Texas’ Juvenile Facilities


Media Contacts:
Kelli Johnson
Texas Appleseed

Edie Surtees
Disability Rights Texas 


AUSTIN, Texas — Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its investigation into the five juvenile justice state secure facilities in Texas run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). A year ago, in October 2020, Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas, two nonprofit justice and legal organizations, filed a complaint with the DOJ asking the Department to open an investigation based on unconstitutional conditions and grievous violations of children’s constitutional rights.

“We are pleased that the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into Texas’ juvenile justice facilities because young people are being detained in unsafe and abusive environments where adults are not protecting them,” said Brett Merfish, Director of Youth Justice at Texas Appleseed and an attorney. “This ongoing pattern of abuse and mistreatment, stemming back a decade, must stop.”

The investigation is being conducted pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The DOJ will look into four areas of possible maltreatment and failings:

  • Physical and sexual abuse of children in Texas’ secure facilities
  • Harms resulting from excessive use of chemical restraints on children
  • Harms from excessive use of isolation of children
  • Adequacy of mental health care treatment and services

“Not only is the charge of rehabilitation not being met, but children are denied adequate mental health care and subjected to unthinkable abuses,” said Beth Mitchell, Senior Attorney and Co-Litigation Coordinator at Disability Rights Texas. “We feel a great relief that the DOJ is looking into the matter.”

The 2020 complaint filed by Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas included open records data from TJJD and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and reports from the Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO). The organizations also identified problems from site visits and via personal accounts by family and youth.

Further remarks from the DOJ can be found here.

About Texas Appleseed
Texas Appleseed, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our nonprofit conducts data-driven research that uncovers inequity in laws and policies and identifies solutions for lasting, concrete change. For more information, visit

About Disability Rights Texas

DRTx is an independent, private, nonprofit agency established under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 15001 et seq., the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act, 42 U.S.C. § 10801 et seq. and the Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights Program of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794e. Our mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. DRTx lawyers and advocates fulfill this mission by monitoring, providing advocacy, and investigating abuse and neglect on behalf of persons with disabilities including youth committed to Texas’ Juvenile Justice Facilities. For more information, visit