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 constitutional issues.
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 in Minnesota.
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