Page 26


Abil\(11111111’S TOUCH Juvenile inmates can make inviting targets for sex offendersand women are the most frequent perpetrators. Is the Texas Youth Commission ignoring the problem? SHIA TERSTOC K ONE EVENING IN NOVEMBER 2007, an 18-year-old inmate in Beaumont’s Al Price Juvenile Correctional Facility was stretched out on his bunk when a female guard named Janice Simpson entered his room. The facility was short-staffed that day, so nobody was watching or listening when Simpson, 45, asked to see the teenager’s penis. Or when he showed her. Or when she told him she liked what she saw. Later, at about 3:30 a.m., the two had sex on the gray, stained carpet of the facility’s concrete-walled “group room.” Earlier that year, 390 miles away at the Gainesville State School, a 25-year-old cafeteria worker named Tabithea Leach asked a juvenile inmate to accompany her into a walk-in refrigerator. Leach asked another inmate to keep watch. When she emerged from the refrigerator, Leach was smiling. “I owe you big time,” she told the lookout. When the young man came out, he looked upset. His friend asked what happened. He was reluctant to say anything, but he did say he had “Tucked her.” Not long afterward, the lookout heard Leach teasing the young man about his difficulty becoming erect. These incidents, documented in reports the Observer obtained from the Texas Youth Commission tually resulted in both the women being fired, convicted of violating the young men’s civil rights, and placed on probation \(four years for Simpson, five tims, nor Leach’s lookout, reported the abuse. Word leaked out through the facilities’ rumor mills, and investigators eventually began asking questions. Neither incident has received much attention until now. Beaumont’s local news station mentioned Simpson’s arrest once. One reason, experts say, is that sexual abuse perpetrated by women is often seen as relatively harmless, if not consensual. It’s also seen as taboo. ‘We don’t want to talk about female sexual deviance,” says Karen Duncan, author of Sexual Predators: Understanding Them to Protect Our Children and Youths. Women, Duncan says, “are not supposed to be sexually attracted to kids.” Those perceptions don’t jibe with reality: Nationwide, 95 percent of sexual abuse allegations in juvenile correctional facilities were against female employees, according to 2008 findings released this year by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That number is striking when you consider that just 42 percent of the facilities’ employees were women in 2008. \(In 2009, 50 percent of Texas Youth Commission employees were female. The justice bureau will not release percentage breakdowns of sexual offenses by female employees in Texas, or at individual facilities. The bureau cites confidentiality as two of only five stemming from scores of sexualmisconduct allegations against TYC staffers since 2008. A shocking sexual-abuse scandal in TYC facilities three years ago prompted officials to take allegations and rumors of abuse more seriously. While legislative reforms mandated that an independent inspector general must investigate all allegations of sexual misconduct by TYC staffers at its 10 institutions and nine halfway houses, convictions continue to be rare. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1 7