Abuses continue at Texas institutions despite settlement

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A new investigation by the Texas Tribune reveals that Texas is making slow progress in improving conditions at its 13 state-run facilities for people with disabilities, even though the state is two years into a five-year legal settlement it signed with the federal government in 2009.

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“It’s all just as bad,” said Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney at Disability Rights Texas, in the article. “The numbers suggest less physical abuse, but we still see a lot of really significant cases. I can’t tell you that there’s one shining example of a wonderful facility, because there’s not.”

That settlement was prompted by a Department of Justice investigation that began in 2007, after  a report documented 17 avoidable deaths in the state’s institutions during the previous 18-month period. The DOJ investigation found avoidable deaths, civil rights violations and systemic abuse, according to the Texas Tribune article.

Two years into the five-year settlement, which requires Texas to spend $112 million over the period to end the systematic abuses, the state has not met even a quarter of the settlement’s requirements and there has been a spike in the number of abuse and neglect allegations from residents.

The Texas Tribune investigation found multiple cases of people with disabilities being sexually abused, being beaten with belts by security officials and forced to spend endless hours doing repetitive chores.

Lucy Nashed, a spokesman for Governor Rick Perry, defended the state’s progress, noting that the state has installed 3,500 cameras in its institutions, appointed monitors to inspect the facilities and now requires background checks for new employees at the institutions.

“Gov. Perry is committed to ensuring the safety of the residents in these facilities, and we take each of these claims very seriously,” she said in the article. “We continue to monitor the progress they are making toward meeting the terms of the agreement.”

Disability Rights Texas is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.