By Jordan Riak, April 3, 2007

In the current public discussion about alleged abuses against incarcerated youth in Texas, one hears warnings that stricter hiring standards and employee oversight and the revamping or closure of certain juvenile facilities will result in the precipitous release of dangerous young thugs into the community. It's a legitimate concern.

In contrast, however, there is a paucity of discussion about what will happen to staff who have committed serious offences against inmates. Are they just going to be bid farewell and good riddance? Does the mere loss of a job satisfy the demands of justice and fairness? And is anyone so naive as to believe these people won't turn up elsewhere in a related line of work where they will carry on as before?

Maybe it's time for a little honest soul searching. We can start by asking ourselves why there is such a disparity between the way youth who violate the rules of the adult world are perceived and treated and the way adults who commit far more serious violations against youth are perceived and treated. Why the glaring double standard?

I suspect part of the answer to that puzzle lies in the impracticality of prosecuting child abusers. Given the diminished legal status of children -- slightly less than that of family pets, but better than that of farm livestock -- it's difficult, if not impossible, to convict a child abuser whose crime did not result in either death or serious physical injury, and who was not witnessed in the act by creditable informants, or whose deed wasn't recorded on video. Bullies, sadists, child molesters and other misfits who have been on the payroll of boot camps, youth lock-ups and other such institutions where a culture of cruelty prevails have been uniquely privileged to earn an honest living doing the work they love. And they've been untouchable. They've been the principle beneficiaries of an arrangement -- a kind of gentlemen's agreement -- that binds and paralyses all parties in the management hierarchy in a web of guilt.

Hopefully the system overhaul now under way in Texas will do what Governor Perry promises, and not just discreetly shift the dirt from one hiding place to another.




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