In the past four months, District Judge Michael Seiler of Montgomery County has been recused from hearing eight civil commitment cases due to allegations of bias. These eight cases accounted for half of the sixteen petitions in total made by defense attorneys to have him removed from proceedings. As a result, State Senator John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has requested that the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct investigate Seiler. This new development is one of many pieces in the recent upheavals surrounding Texas’ controversial civil commitment program.
In Texas, individuals can be mandated for civil comm
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 now reside in halfway houses across the state. While it has been cited that no one going through Texas’ civil commitment program was ever re-convicted of another sexual offense, in all of the 15 years of the program’s existence, no one has ever completed treatment and “graduated” from the program either. As exhibited in recent news, civilly committed individuals can be sent back to prison for violating civil commitment rules, even those that are actually not criminal in nature.
Beginning in 2014, the OVSOM underwent some internal upheaval. After the resignation of their previous executive director Allison Taylor, the OVSOM was subject to both audits and investigations revealing an organization in disarray. 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. Then, 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. Now, alongside the present allegations against Judge Seiler, a number of the halfway houses housing civilly committed individuals in Texas are refusing to take more people and have notified the OVSOM that they do not plan to renew their contracts. The present situation in its entirety has resulted in a backlog of unseen cases and no room for newly committed individuals.
While the state released a Request for Proposals (RFP) last year for “Community Residential Facility(s) to provide housing and related services for violent sex offenders who have been civilly committed” in the end they decided to cancel the search. As the search for adequate civil commitment facilities continues, it seems that there might be a necessity to issue another such RFP in the near future. Given the expanding markets of private prison corporations, one wonders whether this will prove as an opportunity for them to capitalize on the OVSOM’s present state of desperation. We already witnessed one attempt last October when Correct Care Solutions, formerly known as GEO Care and a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, bid to re-purpose the Bill Clayton Detention Center as a new civil commitment facility. This option, if successful, would have transitioned Texas from an outpatient halfway house to a secure lock-up model. Although it failed to come to fruition, it will be interesting to see if these private prison companies are waiting in the wings to “help” the OVSOM remedy its present predicament.