“They will say, ‘Who are you going to tell? I can tell on mu.” tolerance” approach toward sexual abuse. She sees the findings of the survey, conducted in mid-2008, as more of a reflection of the failures of the old TYC. “The survey was done before many of these reforms were enacted,” she says, “and they certainly were done during a time when there was great upheaval and change occurring within the agency.” Townsend says that because the survey was done anonymously, many of the allegations are surely false. “We know that when you install phones, kids give hotline tips all the time, and they’ll often [make an allegation and then] say, ‘No, I’m just kidding.’ It’s a way of getting attention.” James Smith, TYC’s director of youth services, agreed, saying the allegations were “overwhelmingly” false. Officials pointed out that TYC inmates are, by definition, troubled kids. At intake, 43 percent admit to being gang members. Eighty-five percent have IQs below the mean score of 100. Thirty-seven percent have serious mental health problems, and 31 percent enter the facilities with documented histories of being sexually abused. Corsicana, which had the highest rate of reported sexual abuse, houses all of the state’s juvenile inmates who have diagnosable mental illness or retardation. The U.S. Department of Justice was not so quick to brush off the report’s findings. In March, the Department began questioning TYC officials, focusing particularly on the Corsicana Center, where nearly one-quarter of the inmates alleged they’d had sexual contact with staff members. \(The other facility with a high number of reports, the Victory Field Correctional Department’s Review Panel on Prison Rape asked the TYC to provide documents and data about Corsicana’s policies, its operations and actions taken in response to the allegations. In June, several TYC and Corsicana center officials were summoned to Washington for sworn testimony. The TYC was not asked to make further changes for now; the federal investigation was aimed at “identifying common characteristics of institutions with a high incidence of prison rape.” TYC officials and sexual-abuse experts agree that the troubled characteristics of Corsicana’s juvenile inmates contributed to the high incidence of reported sex abuse there. The agreement stops there. Do the inmates’ histories of sexual abuse and mental illness lead them to report more false allegations? Or do such histories make these kids easier targets for sex offenders? FIFTY MILES EAST OF WACO, the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center is a sprawling maximum-security facilityor “campus,” as TYC officials like to call it housing up to 140 of Texas’ most violent and disturbed youthful offenders. The facility was built as an orphanage in 1899, and most locals still know it as the “state home.” Its low-slung brick buildings, ringed by a high fence, sit between stretches of pasture and Corsicana, an oil boomtown that has seen better days. Corsicana had the first oil field west of the Mississippi, but the gushing stopped in the 1960s. Vacant storefronts dominate the red-brick streets of the downtown commercial space in this town of nearly 25,000. Everyone here knows somebody who works, or has worked, at the “home.” But the population inside the facility is shrouded in myth. “Most of ’em were crack babies,” says one city resident who requested anonymity. “They have no conscience. If one of them gets out, they’ll kill someone before they are found.” Some of that fear is understandable. Seventy-five percent of the juveniles at Corsicana are violent offenders, compared with 58 percent in all TYC facilities. Every inmate at Corsicana has been diagnosed either with mental illness or mental retardation. They are more likely to have been sexually abused before they arrive: 54 percent have histories of sexual abuse. “Almost every kid you talk to here has some sort of sexual victimization in their past,” says Laura Braly, superintendent at Corsicana. Braly, bespectacled and stout with curly black hair, is 13 years into her career with TYC. She lives at the facility and refers to the inmates as “my kids” and the caseworkers as “my caseworkers.” “A lot of my kids have been so victimized that they are highly, highly sexual,” Braly says. “If you were on the Internet with pornography at 3 years old, that’s all you know. You don’t know how to express yourself any way other than through sexuality, and you interpret everything as being sexual.” Braly says Corsicana’s caseworkers and psychologists train kids to communicate “in other ways than sexual ways.” She says it’s “almost like what you would tell a younger child, like `good touch, bad touch.’ These kids might be older, but they’ve never really been taught that. So if somebody walks by and touches them on the shoulder, they go, `I’ve been sexually assaulted.’ Karen Duncan, the sexual-abuse expert, says she is “stunned” by such talk. When juveniles have experienced violent or ongoing victimization, she says, “it’s possible” that they would interpret, say, a pat on the shoulder as “something sexual.” But these are rare SEE Time magazine’s narrated photo slide show of juvenile inmates in Laredo at txlo.com/laredjv WATCH a video on CNN about the Bureau of Justice Statistics report at tx1o.comicnnbjs SEPTEMBER 3, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER i 9
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