The Bill Clayton Detention Center has been the subject of a long saga that has been draining the tiny West Texas town of Littlefield of revenue for years. The problems in Littlefield have been persistent since building the jail for $10 million in 2000. Littlefield has tried to auction off the facility and fill it with prisoners from New Mexico, California, and even immigrant children. None of these plans have panned out as the town now looks toward a civil commitment contract with Correct Care Solutions. Correct Care Solutions, formerly known as GEO Care, is a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, the same corporation that operated the facility until 2009.
If approved, this facility would house approximately 200 individuals convicted of multiple violent sexual offenses-but who have already completed their prison sentences-beginning as early as November 2014. In this case, the term civil commitment refers to the process of continued monitoring, surveillance, and treatment of individuals labeled as the “worst of the worst” in the world of those convicted of violent sexual offenses. In Texas, individuals can be mandated for civil commitment when they have been convicted of more than one sexually violent offense and have been deemed as suffering from a behavioral abnormality. Again, those who become civilly committed have completed their prison sentences but are mandated to receive continued treatment and active monitoring upon release.
This program, which is governed by the Office of Violent Sexual Offenders Management (OVSOM), has been around for approximately 15 years. Individuals who are civilly committed under the Texas model right now reside in halfway houses across the state. While at least 20 states have enacted laws that allow civil commitment programming, Texas is the only state that uses an outpatient halfway house model as opposed to a more punitive lockup model. Allison Taylor, out-going Executive Director of the Office of Violent Sexual Offenders Management (OVSOM), cited the fact that no one going through Texas’ civil commitment program was ever re-convicted of another sexual offense. Yet, in all of the 15 years of the program’s existence, no one has ever completed treatment and “graduated” from the program either. In fact, civilly committed individuals can be sent back to prison for violating civil commitment rules, even those that are actually not criminal in nature. This oftentimes results in a never-ending revolving door between prison and civil commitment facilities.
The act of civilly committing individuals convicted of sexual offenses has raised numerous legal and moral concerns. In response to this, The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) has made a number of recommendations around best practices for civil commitment that include:
utilizing empirically validated risk assessments tools
treatment that begins during periods of incarceration prior to civil commitment
appropriate treatment relative to each individual’s mental health needs
on-going assessments of progress towards treatment goals to support reentry and reintegration
The transition from a halfway house model to a secure lockup facility for those convicted of violent sexual offenses would be a significant change from outpatient to more inpatient care. It would also be a decision riddled with controversy for a number of other reasons as well.
For example, the Office of Violent Sexual Offenders Management has been highlighted in the news recently for internal upheaval. Avalon Corrections, the private company that operates the halfway houses threatened to release 140 men under their supervision if the state refused to increase their pay from $44 per day per person to $77 per day. In addition, the OVSOM received numerous community complaints when they relocated a number of their clients to an Acres Homes boarding house, an east Austin neighborhood, and then secretly planned to relocate to a remote location in Liberty County-all without notifying residents and community members. Most recently, the state released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for “Community Residential Facility(s) to provide housing and related services for violent sex offenders who have been civilly committed.” They are hoping to make a final award mid-late October 2014.
In addition, there have been a number of problems with the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management’s leadership. In April 2014, the Executive Director resigned and was replaced two weeks later by Marsha McLane. The office is currently under investigation on two criminal charges and is being audited by the state. The system for decision-making regarding sexual offenses in Texas is further complicated by the fact that there is only one judge in the state responsible for civil commitments of people convicted of a sexual offense, Montgomery County District Judge Michael Seiler.
Contracting with Correct Care Solutions also raises serious questions about the operator’s history. In 2014, Correct Care Solutions absorbed the company GEO Care which was a spin-off subsidiary of GEO Group, a private prison corporation. Interestingly, the investigation that ensued after an individual committed suicide at the Bill Clayton facility in 2008 happened while the facility was under the jurisdiction of the private prison company, GEO Group.
A for-profit secure civil commitment center in remote Littlefield is a dramatic change to current practices of OVSOM and raises serious questions about both the operator’s history and the reasons for a move towards more secure facilities. This does does not stand as the best solution for responding to the present needs of the OVSOM nor is it the best option for providing adequate treatment for those in civil commitment centers.