Injuries Rise at Texas Youth Prisons

Prison Cell AUSTIN, Texas -- On-the-job injury claims are soaring among juvenile prison guards with the troubled Texas Youth Commission, which is embroiled in scandal amid inmate claims of sexual and physical abuse.

According to state records, youth-commission employees file more work-related injury claims than any other state agency, including four times the rate of Department of Criminal Justice employees, who guard adult prisoners.

Reports of physical confrontations between guards and young inmates have jumped by a third since 2003. In 2006, correctional officers at the youth commission's 13 facilities forcibly restrained inmates an average of 35 times a day, according to the records obtained by the Austin American-Statesman.

Jay Kimbrough, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to lead the probe into the Texas Youth Commission, said Sunday that he had not read the newspaper report but wasn't surprised by its findings. "It's simple math," he told The Associated Press. "When we looked at this thing from the get go, that was a very significant thing to me, whether the proper staff ratio exists. I don't believe it does."

Allegations of sexual and physical abuse at youth commission facilities have grown almost daily in the past month. On Friday, the entire board of directors overseeing the youth prisons resigned, and two scathing reports issued by investigators called for changes throughout the system.

Investigations into the agency began shortly after reports surfaced that employees had covered up allegations that two officials at the West Texas State School in Pyote had molested male inmates. The employees resigned but have never been charged with any crimes.

Worker compensation complaints from the youth commission -- filed at a rate of three a day in 2005 -- have cost taxpayers an average of $6.2 million in each of the past three years, the newspaper reported Sunday. In 2006, state juvenile corrections officers collectively missed more than 6,000 days on the job because of work-related injuries.

In a recent unreleased report obtained by the newspaper, the agency blames the soaring injury claims on growing incarceration numbers, even though inmate populations are smaller now than five years ago.

Guards say the rising number of injuries signals a dangerous shift in control between staff and students.

The Texas Youth Commission incarcerates about 4,700 offenders ages 10 to 21 who are considered the most dangerous, incorrigible or chronic.