As part of a series of changes to the civil commitment program in Texas, Littlefield will serve as the new home for nearly 200 individuals convicted of a sexual offense who have served their time, but who have been indefinitely civilly committed. Although federally required to be a treatment program, not a punitive one, a company with roots in the private prison industry will operate the facility. Correct Care Recovery Solutions (CCRS), formerly known as GEO Care, is a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, the same corporation that operated the facility until 2009. This contract seems a consolation prize for CCRS, who lost the bid to take over Terrell State Hospital earlier this year.
The remote Bill Clayton Detention Center has lain empty for six years. Owing 13% of their budget in bond payments each year, this is not the first time the city of Littlefield has tried to repurpose the facility. In 2014, the city hoped that locking up children fleeing Central America could fix their financial troubles.
The opening of the new facility comes alongside numerous changes for the program. Attempting to get ahead of the feds after a federal court decision in June which ruled Minnesota’s civil commitment program unconstitutional because it held participants indefinitely, Senator Whitmire introduced Senate Bill 746 during the 84th legislative session. Signed by Gov. Abbott on June 16 and effective immediately, the legislation accomplished a number of reforms. Unfortunately, the bill also removed the outpatient requirement from statute, allowing the state to confine all program participants in a more restrictive lockdown facility, rather than in halfway houses in various parts of the state.
According to Sen. Whitmire, the new program is designed to allow participants to move through the five-tiered system, with prison-like confinement only at the front end. In theory, if someone follows the rules and makes strides in their treatment, they will move through the tiers and eventually leave the program. Unfortunately, treatment components and policies governing length of time spent in each tier remain undefined and “graduates” will continue to remain under state supervision through ankle monitoring.
Although some program participants are hopeful about the changes, others are skeptical. The state asked program participants to sign a waiver to voluntarily enter the new program - 97 refused. The distrust of the new program may stem from the program’s constitutionally dubious history. In the 16 years it operated as an outpatient program, no one was ever released from the program. Although there is now a process for individuals to move through the program and potentially be released, the state’s contract with CCRS incentivizes keeping the Littlefield facility full. The state will pay $128.70 per person per day initially, but once the population increases to over 250 individuals, the state gets a break and will pay only $100 per person per day. Similarly to private prison and immigrant detention contracts, the state now is incentivized to keep the number of individuals confined in Littlefield high, rather than encouraging rehabilitation and release. This perverse incentive is especially troublesome because oversight for the program will come only from the agency itself. With such a poor track record on the part of the agency and the private corporation running the facility, skepticism seems completely warranted.
Look for more to come on Correct Care Recovery Solutions and civil commitment in Texas.