Each offender is required to wear a satellite-monitoring device on their ankle that tracks their every movement, and any time they leave their assigned center they must be escorted. Janus said Texas' ability to charge the civil-commitment offenders with a third-degree felony for violating the rules "has always struck me as a highly problematic and a highly distinctive part of the Texas law.
An agency report states that from to , 44 percent of the offenders have gone back to prison for rules violations. The American Psychiatric Association has disputed the use of a "behavioral abnormality" to determine future behavior. Paul Appelbaum, chair of the American Psychiatric Associations's committee on judicial action and a member of the council on psychiatry and law, said it appears that statutes relying on that term are intended to allow indefinite confinement of people who have committed criminal acts outside of the correctional system.
In the years since the program was established, the Legislature has tweaked the law several times to toughen the program rules.
Through all that, the constitutional questions have lingered. Prior to , many of the offenders were allowed to live at home. But starting then, records show, state officials began moving them back into supervised confinement, filling beds in halfway houses and local jails that were intended for other prisoners. In , the Legislature increased funding, allowing up to 50 additional offenders to be civilly committed each year.
By , the Legislature made the agency an independent entity, a move that is now being questioned by legislative leaders amid the controversy and investigations. Appelbaum said he was under the impression that Texas had been remarkably progressive in believing that offenders could be treated in the community.
Critics and offenders complain that the programs offer little in the way of rehabilitation, even a way to successfully complete the treatment program. In negotiating a contract for the proposed Liberty County center, Taylor removed basketball courts, garden areas, a skill training and other amenities from the site plans to cut costs.
Supporters counter that the program never was designed to coddle offenders, and that Texas is safer because the offenders have no freedom. But statistics provided by the agency show that even while the offenders were allowed to live in the community with supervision as they were years ago, there were no new crimes. She and other attorneys question why the rules of the program appear to be designed so no one ever graduates.
Echoing much that same concern is Al Wilson, 63, a former parole officer who, starting in , worked for 18 months as a case manager in the program. He believes he was fired after questioning the fairness of enforcement - and came to the conclusion that the rules were designed to send the offenders back to prison, not allow them to successfully complete their treatment. As a case manager, Wilson supervised 10 offenders, interviewed them once a week, created their schedules for treatment and watched over them anytime they were allowed outside the facility for medical appointments or visits to the law library.
But he watched as offender after offender was cited for minor infractions and sent back to jail or prison. Wilson recalled one instance where offender Israel Escobar's ankle monitor had accidentally come off while he was playing basketball at the facility. Escobar followed proper procedure and immediately informed program officials of the problem. Still, Wilson said he was told by a supervisor that a violation was warranted.
February 01, - The U. The charges were dropped a day or two later, and I never had to go before a judge. The NSOPW works like a search engine by pulling information that is placed by states and local jurisdictions on their own public websites; it does not independently verify that information. United Kingdom , No. In all, we investigated cases of individuals who committed sexual offenses as children across 20 states for this report, including in Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Josephine Craft, 6, was safely located in Mexico City with the assistance of Mexican authorities.
Court records show Escobar was arrested and charged with violating the program and was sent to Harris County Jail. But they said he shouldn't have been playing basketball. I thought that was excessive. Wilson also challenged other decisions. He considers the program a failure, because no one has ever graduated from it.
Former state Rep. Allen Place, D-Gatesville, an attorney who has represented offenders, told a reporter last year as a legislative committee was considering changes to the law that the program seemed to be designed to hold sex offenders indefinitely. I don't know that anyone fully embraced the concept as it is being operated now. Until a public outcry forced the state to move them, a group of high-risk sex offenders was being housed in a home in the block of W. Montgomery Road in the Acres Homes neighborhood of north Houston.
Photo: Johnny Hanson.
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