The recent escape of a former sex offender from Texas's civil commitment
program offers an opportunity to review the merits of the program. No
offender who has been committed to Texas's civil commitment program
has ever been released, and from a criminal defense perspective there
are concerns that the program is a way to indefinitely extend a prison
sentence without due process.
Texas's civil commitment program for those convicted of a
sex crime is one among 20 in the United States and is the only civil commitment
program that is an outpatient program. Under Texas's system, individuals
who are serving a jail sentence for a sex crime are reviewed for civil
commitment by a multidisciplinary team 16 months before they are scheduled
to be released. The multidisciplinary team determines whether the individual
is a repeat sexually violent offender and the risk of whether the individual
will commit a violent sexual crime in the future.
If it is determined that the individual has a behavior abnormality, then
the case is forwarded to a special prosecution unit that will seek a civil
commitment for the individual. The burden is on the state to prove the
individual's abnormal behavioral trait. Individuals who are subject
to the civil commitment process can request a trial by jury or judge.
If an individual is committed, the person's status is reviewed once
every two years.
Once an individual is civilly committed, the person is required to wear
a GPS ankle monitor 24 hours a day for tracking purposes. The person is
also subject to strict supervision by a case manager, and the individual's
activities are restricted to work and treatment. According to the executive
director of the agency that oversees the civil commitment program in Texas,
the program is "much more intensive than being on parole." If
an individual violates the conditions of the commitment, the person faces
a third-degree felony and will face additional time in prison.
Even though civil commitment programs have been ruled constitutional by
the U.S. Supreme Court, critics say such programs undermine the idea of
double jeopardy, the prohibition of subsequent prosecution after conviction,
because the programs extend prison sentences without due process.
Source: chron.com, "Free Texas Sex Offenders Aren't Really Free," Anita Hassan, April 16, 2012