Texas Investigator Questions Extended Sentences For Young Inmates; Families Allege Retaliation

Friday, March 23rd 2007, 2:42 pm
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The records of most inmates in Texas' scandal-rocked juvenile prison system will be reviewed to determine whether their sentences were unfairly extended, an official investigating the system said Friday.

Time has been added to the sentences of about 90 percent of Texas Youth Commission inmates, commission special master Jay Kimbrough said. Inmates' families and advocates claim that prison officials often extended sentences for capricious reasons or in retaliation for filing grievances.

``I have no confidence in the integrity of that entire system,'' Kimbrough said as he announced the probe Friday.

A panel of community activists, prosecutors and juvenile prison officials will review the records on each inmate's sentencing extension and make a suggestions to a retired judge who will decide whether the inmate should be immediately released, Kimbrough said.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Kimbrough to investigate the commission early this month after the Dallas Morning News cited a never-released 2005 Texas Rangers report that said boys at one prison had been molested by top officials there. A later internal investigation confirmed the findings and said commission officials knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

Allegations of sexual abuse at other youth prisons have since emerged, and all members of the commission, which runs the juvenile prisons system, have resigned.

An acting executive director has been hired to overhaul the troubled agency, which incarcerates about 4,700 offenders ages 10 to 21 who are considered the most dangerous, incorrigible or chronic.

One of the former officials accused of sexual abuse in the 2005 report denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the San Antonio Express News published Friday, and said the ordeal has been ``torture.''

``'Which kid did I offend?' I've revisited it again and again,'' said John Paul Hernandez, a former principal at the West Texas State School in Pyote. ``I've gone back to look at journals. It's still not clear to me.''

A Ward County grand jury began investigating the allegations Wednesday but did not take immediate action; deliberations are to resume April 10.

Also Friday, the superintendent of a commission intake facility in Marlin was arrested on misdemeanor charges that he lied to a Texas Ranger about whether there were allegations of sexual assault at his facility.