Tim Murphy of Mother Jones begins his report on Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) juvenile detention record with an explosive question: “Why did the GOP presidential contender wait six years to clean up the culture of child rape at Texas youth detention centers?” Perry has known about the severe problems in the state’s juvenile detention system since 2001, but largely ignored them while taking campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists who had the most to gain from him looking the other way:
For years, the Texas juvenile justice system was wracked by reports of rape, unsanitary conditions, and physical abuse. According to statistics submitted by the TYC in 2007, 83 percent of residents who requested counseling that year were ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.[…]
Gov. Rick Perry did not take swift action to address the problem, which his office knew about for years. Allegations of systematic mistreatment at TYC facilities first came to the Governor’s desk in 2001, when then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) forwarded along a complaint that his office had received. That was six years before media coverage of the conditions in juvenile detention centers launched a public scandal. And critics of Perry, who is now a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, point out that he received tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and executives for a firm tied to some of the worst abuses.
Perry sat on a growing pile of complaints for years and only took action when media reports sparked a national scandal — “and even then, some of the worst offenders got off easy.” In 2007, the Dallas Morning News and Texas Observer noted that the TYC had received, and failed to respond to, 750 complaints of sexual misconduct from inmates since 2000. One prison guard accused of sexual assault turned out to be a registered sex offender. Conditions and mistreatment at one youth detention facility in central Texas were so bad — “feces on the walls and bed-sheets, steel bars blocking fire escapes” — that it had to be shut down entirely.
The real victims of Perry’s inaction were, of course, thousands of young men and women, many of whom spent years at these facilities for non-violent offenses. Far from rehabilitating them, this hellish “justice” system turned into a “breeding ground for mental illness and a stepping stone to recidivism.”
Murphy also notes that the TYC Board of Supervisors, which was responsible for letting most of the complaints die, consists almost entirely of major GOP donors rather than qualified criminal justice professionals. Several of the facilities and guards that received complaints were operated or employed by GEO Group, one of the nation’s biggest private prison contractors.
At every step of the way, reform of the system was complicated by Perry’s financial entanglements with GEO Group and his support for prison privatization. As ThinkProgress has reported, the private prison industry has spent millions on lobbying to put more people in jail for longer sentences, which translates to more profits for them. Additionally, Perry took in $65,000 from GEO lobbyists and executives during his 2010 reelection campaign. As for GEO Group, they would receive nothing but a slap on the wrist for their abuses.