This past May, June, and July, children detained in several Texas juvenile prisons were denied regular access to toilets, forced to urinate into empty water bottles and defecate on pieces of paper on the floor. According to The Texas Tribune, unable to keep the required child-to-staff ratio, staff at two Texas juvenile lockups kept children in their cells without access to bathrooms from 4:30 pm to 8:00 am on weekdays and up to 22 hours a day on weekends.
According to the Tribune, at Giddings State School "the children had no choice but to use water bottles, milk cartons, lunch trays or pieces of paper as makeshift toilets," during the longest periods of isolation.
"During the July visit, the Ombudsman asked youth in all dorms whether this problem had improved. All youth stated the issue was the same or worse," state inspectors wrote. "Many said they still urinated in their water bottles or milk cartons, and three said they defecated inside their room, one in a lunch tray, one in a plastic bag, and one on a piece of paper. Multiple youth said they had submitted grievances … but nothing had changed."
Inspectors for the Texas Juvenile Justice System documented the accounts of incarcerated kids: "One said he would 'never forget' having to defecate in his room. Another said, 'Even animals are let out' to use the bathroom. A third said, 'This is inhumane.'"
A similar situation appears to have occurred at another youth prison in North Texas, called the Gainesville State School, where juveniles reported that facility staff had given them cups to use as toilets, per the Tribune's reporting.
The children imprisoned at Giddings State School and Gainesville State School often have severe mental health problems. Hourslong lockdowns, during which children are denied access to basic hygiene, only exacerbate this.
Staffing shortages make monitoring severely mentally ill children difficult. According to the Tribune, nearly half of the youth in the state's prison system have been placed on suicide watch this year. One mother of a kid currently incarcerated at Giddings State School told the Tribune that her son "was able to cut himself because he wasn't being properly monitored, but the investigation was closed with no further action taken."
"[Kids] are self-harming because the mobile teams may take an hour to get there and they have to go to the bathroom. They are self-harming because they get to go to the clinic and the infirmary to have contact," Shandra Carter, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department's interim executive director, said during a June board meeting. Understaffing "could cause a significantly impaired ability to intervene in the increasing suicidal behaviors already occurring by youth struggling with the isolative impact of operational room confinement."
If a parent denies their child access to bathrooms for 22 hours a day, such actions are rightfully considered child abuse, and perhaps even grounds for the state to protect the child by removing them from their parent's care. When those children are imprisoned, apparently, state actors are free to deny young people in their custody even the most basic hygiene, with little recourse.