FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 5, 2008
In June 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a formal investigation of Lubbock State School triggered by multiple allegations that the constitutional rights of residents were being denied. Earlier this year, on the heels of the Lubbock investigation, the DOJ announced it had reason to suspect similar violations were occurring at the 11 remaining state schools and centers. The results of these investigations, released this week, document widespread abuse and neglect throughout the system.
In direct response to the DOJ findings, I plan to file legislation creating a Bill of Rights for residents of state schools.
This is not the first report to indicate instances of abuse and neglect in our state schools, but the DOJ's findings show the frequency and severity of these violations are worse than any of us could have imagined. I am horrified and outraged by the blatant violations of basic human rights occurring at our state schools. The DOJ findings are an embarrassment to the State of Texas and prove the need for immediate reform.
The 12 Texas state schools and centers house over 5,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities. The DOJ investigations indicated numerous violations at each of the facilities, ranging from failure to provide appropriate health care and improper use of restraints, to neglect, maltreatment and failure to prevent physical and sexual abuse.
I am especially disheartened to hear reports of a growing number of children in these large institutions which often house thousands of adults at a single facility. Children at state schools show the desperation of parents longing for better alternatives that do not come.
The DOJ report follows a Legislative Budget Board (LBB) report issued only a week ago addressing the expense of state schools and recommending a shift in spending by providing funding for more community-based options.
We want to create as many options as possible for Texas families, but we know that for the most part, individuals with developmental delays function better and prefer to live in community and/or family settings rather than in large institutions. In the past, we have failed to present these individuals with an adequate number of viable options, and many have been forced into state schools for the complete lack of an alternative.
In addition to the Bill of Rights, I will also file legislation to address systematic reform for children and young people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. I don't want to waste time assigning blame, but I am adamant that we create a new system that is person-centered and assures accountability for those who serve as stewards for vulnerable populations.
The DOJ report indicates a crisis every bit as serious as has been documented at the Texas Youth Commission and Child Protective Services, and should therefore be handled with the utmost urgency and commitment.
Note: Policy Analyst Kate H. Volti will handle this issue for Sen. Lucio and can be reached at 512-463-0127.