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Texas Youth Prisons Sued For Abuse

A U.S. civil liberties group sued the Texas youth prison system on Thursday, claiming girl inmates have been traumatized by practices such as solitary confinement and strip searches.

The American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in Austin on behalf of five girls held at the Brownwood facility claims the Texas Youth Commission is violating inmates' constitutional rights and international standards on protecting children from abuse and cruel treatment.

"It's in the interests of both the children and TYC to stop these practices," said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU's women's rights project.

TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said officials would discuss the issues with the ACLU in an attempt to resolve any dispute.

Brownwood is the only TYC facility for girls and it holds inmates on violations ranging from property offenses to serious crimes. Its estimated population was more than 19,700 in 2006, latest figures available.

According to the lawsuit, girls at Brownwood have been regularly placed in solitary confinement as punishment for days, weeks or months. Strip searches were conducted even when the girls had not left the Brownwood facility, and guards used force, such as pepper spray, handcuffs and leather straps, when they resisted, the lawsuit said.

The five inmates have histories of sexual physical or emotional abuse. The types of treatment alleged in the lawsuit can trigger flashbacks to childhood rapes and feeling degraded and humiliated, the ACLU contends.

Hurley, who had not seen the lawsuit and could not discuss specific allegations, said the agency is taking steps to improve how it deals with female inmates. He noted the agency recently ended a long-term isolation program that had been used at a different facility.

The ACLU has been a harsh critic of Texas' juvenile corrections system struggling to overcome revelations of inmate abuse and possible cover-ups that came to light in early 2007. State lawmakers ordered a massive overhaul of the agency and several top administrators were either fired or resigned.