Editor's note: This project discusses self-harm. If you have experienced suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide and want to seek help, you can call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting "HOME" to 741741.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) has a long and well-documented history of neglect and abuse. In December 2017 and July 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Rangers to look into potential cases of sexual abuse, violence, and illegal behavior by TJJD staff. In October 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began an investigation into conditions at the five secure TJJD facilities. In June 2022, two officers were arrested for slamming a handcuffed teen’s head into a brick pillar, leaving him unconscious.
Keith, 15, has been in TJJD facilities since he was 11 for what might be considered minor infractions—hitting a school safety officer and spitting on a police officer. He has a history of mental illness and in the past two years has cut his arms, tied ligatures around his neck, and harmed himself in other ways. Keith was hospitalized and had surgery on March 14, 2022, again on March 19, and then March 28, each time after he inserted a piece of metal in his urethra.
Keith's behavior, and the fact that he is clearly not being kept safe, is part of a larger pattern. Though there are fewer children in TJJD facilities than in years past, the number of incidents of self harm has almost doubled in the past two years.
The question is, why? And why, despite the current DOJ and other investigations, does the situation seem to getting worse rather than better?
In this project for The Texas Tribune, Lisa Armstrong tells the story of Keith and investigates current conditions at TJJD facilities to find the answers to these questions.