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DALLAS (AP) — A juvenile correctional center in Dallas for years didn't allow its inmates to go outside for months on end, according to former guards, probation officers and families of incarcerated teens.
The Lyle B. Medlock Youth Treatment Center houses teenage boys who have committed offenses requiring secure placement. The inmates are supposed to receive counseling, life-skills training, drug education and outdoor recreation at the facility.
But Gabriela Garza told the Dallas Morning News that she saw the boys taken outside once in her six months as a probation officer at the center.
"They definitely do not get an outlet for the energy and all that anxiety that they feel," she said.
The newspaper investigated after the facility had come under fire earlier this year with reports that boys were being made to sleep on mattresses on the floor, and that at least five boys engaged in sex acts on several occasions amid a lack of supervision.
The head of the Dallas County Juvenile Department, Terry Smith, said changes have been made since that scandal, and records indicate the boys have been let outdoors more. But Smith still won't guarantee that the teenage inmates receive as much time outdoors as dangerous adults inside maximum-security prisons get.
"I don't want to give a number, a limitation, an expectation, because they have to run their building," Smith said, referring to the facility managers who report to her. "I'm not going to say it has to be four to six times a month."
Experts said time outdoors is important for mental health.
"To experience the wind, the sun, the rain, maybe even the snow, that's just normal human existence," said Dr. Raymond Patterson, a former prison psychiatrist. "When you take that away from people who have trouble integrating with the rest of the world, it just adds another stressor."
The Independent Ombudsman, a watchdog for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said inspectors have repeatedly warned Smith about the lack of outdoor time. Smith said she didn't see the agency's complaints, but emails obtained by the newspaper show she received the reports.
"That's why we make the reports, so they're aware of what we've seen," said Debbie Unruh, the chief ombudsman. "It's kind of a report card to the administration."
Seniors leaders like Smith were aware that the boys were not let outdoors as routinely in recent years, said Danny Pirtle, the department's former deputy education director.
"It didn't rise to a level of concern for her (Smith)," Pirtle said. "She would be the person to move the ball forward. And she didn't."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com