Texas' civil commitment program for sex offenders has been the subject
of controversy for several years. The program allows courts to order the
indefinite civil commitment of sex offenders after they have served their
prison sentences if they are deemed likely to re-offend. Individuals convicted of
rape, statutory rape, child sex abuse and other sex crimes are confined at
facilities where they receive treatment to prepare them to re-enter society.
The program has been in place since 1999, and since its inception not
one offender has been fully discharged.
Earlier this month a federal judge struck down a similar program in Minnesota
as unconstitutional. As in Texas, no one has ever been completely discharged
from the Minnesota program. Within hours of that ruling, Governor Abbott
signed a law reforming Texas' program in an effort to avoid the same
The new law in Texas provides for a five-level treatment program. Offenders
who successfully progress through each stage of treatment will ultimately
be eligible for release. Under the new law, offenders in the program will
no longer be sent back to prison for violating program rules. Instead,
they will face penalties within the program, including additional confinement.
While some have praised the reforms, others argue they still don't
go far enough. One criminal defense attorney says the Texas program is
still vulnerable to constitutional attack, because the treatment offered
to offenders is even less than what the federal court found deficient
Whether the reforms will result in anyone being fully discharged from the
program in Texas remains to be seen. Until then, the prospect of indefinite
confinement - even after someone has served their prison time - is a compelling
reason to mount an aggressive defense to any sex crime charge.
Source: Houston Chronicle, "Abbott signs sex offender reforms after Minnesota
program declared unconstitutional," Mike Ward and Anita Hassan, June 17, 2015