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Texas juvenile prison workers plead not guilty to sex abuse charges

[JURIST] Two former administrators at a Texas juvenile prison pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of improper sexual conduct [JURIST report] with six students. Former West Texas State School [official website] principal John Paul Hernandez and former assistant superintendent Ray E. Brookins, who were arrested last week [press release], each resigned in 2005 after an investigation by the Texas Rangers [official website] uncovered allegations of abuse. The case only recently moved forward after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott [official profile] took it from a local prosecutor who declined to pursue most cases relating to the school from 2005-2006. The investigating Rangers alleged that they presented their findings [WorldnetDaily report] to the state and US Attorney offices as well as the Department of Justice, but that no office showed interest in prosecution. Hernandez has been charged with nine counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody and nine counts of improper relationship with a student. Brookins faces up to 20 years in prison for charges of an improper relationship with a student and two years in prison for improper sexual activity with a person in custody. AP has more.

A 2006 US Department of Justice report [text, PDF; summary] said that sexual violence in US prisons, perpetrated by both inmates and prison staff, often goes unreported because abused inmates fear a reprisal. Last month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry [official profile] appointed a commission to review the records of approximately 90 percent of the state's juvenile inmates [JURIST report] following allegations by families and community activists that prison officials extended sentences in retaliation for inmates filing grievances. Staff-initiated sexual misconduct constituted 38 percent of allegations. The authors of the report also warned against placing juvenile inmates with the adult prison population, finding that incidents of rape and abuse are five times higher against juveniles. The report, the second in an annual series [JURIST report] required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 [text, PDF; DOJ backgrounder], showed a marked improvement over staff sexual misconduct and harassment since the initial 2004 study.

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