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Two Gainesville youth lockup guards arrested over alleged abuse

Two guards at a Texas lockup for minors were arrested last week after allegedly abusing youths in custody, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

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Two more guards at a Texas lockup for minors were arrested last week, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Victor Howard, 32, and Jalisa Holbdy, 27, guards at the Gainesville facility north of Dallas, were indicted in mid-November by Cooke County grand juries on misdemeanor charges of official oppression, and the department arrested them Wednesday. Howard is accused of striking a youth in custody in the face last September, and Holbdy allegedly put her hands around a minor’s throat and pushed him into a cabinet in March, according to their indictments.

The department said the arrests stemmed from investigations conducted by its inspector general’s office, the division responsible for receiving and investigating criminal allegations within the department. If convicted, the guards could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $4,000.

Aside from providing the employees' arrest information after requests from The Texas Tribune, the department did not immediately comment on the new arrests.

The arrests are the latest from the Gainesville facility, where three guards already have been arrested and another was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a recent sex abuse scandal.

The day after the Howard and Holbdy’s arrests, the department’s executive director, David Reilly, released a memo to state leadership about its recent cases of sexual misconduct at the lockup. He laid out the challenges the department faces, including “untenable high turnover” and low pay among guards.

“Let me be clear: low pay, high turnover, job stress and staffing shortages do not cause employees to become more sexually deviant,” he said. “However, low staffing levels create opportunities for misconduct that could otherwise be prevented.”

The same day, juvenile justice reform advocacy groups called on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to close the state’s remaining five lockups for youth and focus more on getting youths in state custody closer to their homes. Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed, one of the advocacy groups, said the new arrests are another indication that remote lockups with more than 100 minors in custody “just don’t work.”

“This again shows the need for a close look at problems across all of the facilities and a real hard look by policy makers leading up to session but also in the interim about what can be done to work toward closure of these facilities,” she said.

Disclosure: Texas Appleseed has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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