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The U.S. Justice Department began investigating juvenile detention facilities in Texas after receiving reports of physical and sexual abuse by staff members against children, according to Kristen Clarke, U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Clarke told a news conference Wednesday: "Our investigation will focus on whether there is a pattern or practice of physical or sexual abuse of children in Texas's secure facilities."
"We will also investigate whether there is a pattern or practice of harm as a result of the excessive use of chemical restraints, excessive use of isolation, or lack of adequate mental health services," she said.
This comes amidst a series of investigations into systematic patterns of abuse committed by police departments and jails across the country, including one investigation into Georgia state prisons and others looking at police departments in Minneapolis and Louisville, also under federal investigation.
The investigations constitute another legal escalation for the state of Texas, which is facing two civil lawsuits over the state's broad abortion ban and its executive order restricting migrants' travel.
Spokespeople for the Texas juvenile justice department failed to comment on the investigation immediately.
Clarke said that the investigation will focus on five juvenile facilities across the entire state, and was launched due to "an extensive review of publicly available information" as well as information provided by those involved.
Clarke said that at least 11 staff members of Texas facilities had been arrested for sexually abusing children in their care while also pointing out other examples of misconduct, including reports of staff members paying children with drugs or cash to assault other children.
In an incident from last February, Clarke said that staff allegedly "pepper-sprayed a child and placed him in full mechanical restraints … and then body-slammed him onto a bed."