Texas’s civil commitment program for sexually violent offenders has earned a reputation as an unforgiving place. Much of that is by design.
Each of the 378 men in it has already served his full prison term, some 20 years or longer. After their sentences were up, Texas evaluated them as too likely to re-offend, however, so they were ordered kept locked up indefinitely until ready to rejoin the free world. Their average age is nearing 60.
The program’s sole facility, a collection of low buildings and temporary trailers, sits amid fields on the outskirts of the rural Panhandle community of Littlefield surrounded by two razor-wire-topped fences. Buildings are locked and outfitted with security cameras. Even so, many residents must also wear GPS ankle monitors.
The Texas Civil Commitment Office is tasked with striking a difficult balance, protecting the public while providing the men a clear path to rejoin society. But five years after lawmakers overhauled the program, a chorus of critics contends the state still hasn’t gotten it right.