FEATURE Blind Spots Abuse at an Edinburg juvenile prison reveals troubles in the Texas Youth Commission STORY BY EMILY PYLE I PHOTOS BY AMBER NOVAK INhen the Evins Regional Juvenile Center was built in 1990 to house young males convicted of serious crimes, it was located well outside the tiny South Texas town of Edinburg. In those days, Evins’ nearest neighbor was a trailer park. The town has growntoday a gated community with a banner advertising lifetime golf memberships sits across the road from the center. Evins has grown, too. The two original dorms were built to accommodate 24 boys each. When two dorms were added in 1997 as part of the state’s drive to house its expanding population of juvenile offenders, capacity rose to 240. The newer dorms at Evins are huge, rectangular buildings that look like industrial warehouses, sided in sheet metal and housing 96 convicted felons between the ages of 12 and 21. Inside, the newer dorms are divided into four pods of 24 occupants. The pods are built in the open-bay design widely 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 16, 2006 regarded as the cheapest but most dangerous style of prison architecture. Bunk beds line the two exterior walls, and two plastic chairs stand beside each bed. Sinks, toilets, and showers are separated from the rest of dorm by a waist-high wall. In the center of these dorms is a control room with shatterproof windows open to all four pods, and a bank of television screens streaming footage from security cameras mounted in every corner of each pod. Even as cameras keep steady watch on the inside, places like the Evins center, built in remote areas, are meant to be invisible from the outside. In late 2004, a spate of violence led to state investigations and lawsuits alleging abusive treatment of inmates. Public records of those proceedings provide a rare glimpse of the youth prison system at its worst, and the testimonies of those involved. State authorities say what happened at Evins was an aberration. Others who have been on the inside say Texas juvenile facilities are more dangerous places
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