- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - None of the more than 300 convicted sex offenders ordered into Texas halfway houses under a little-known program since 1999 have ever successfully completed treatment and been freed, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Texas is among 20 states with civil commitment programs, which keeps some convicted sex offenders off the streets after their release from prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld civil commitments on grounds that the involuntary confinements are used to administer treatment, not punishment.

But a Houston Chronicle investigation published Sunday (https://bit.ly/1wweHea ) found that dozens of offenders have severe mental illnesses or developmental delays that leave them unable to succeed in the programs. Critics say offenders with mental disabilities are more vulnerable to criminal penalties because they can’t comply with rules or court orders.

Nearly half of the 350 men ordered into the program since it was created by the Texas Legislature in 1999 have been sent back to prison or jail for violations of program rules, some as simple as being late to treatment, court records show.

“For years, offenders with a variety of disabilities have been assigned to this program with no programs to address their needs,” said Marsha McLane, executive director of the state’s Office of Violent Sex Offender Management. “Keeping a lot of these people in halfway houses, where they are now, is not a solution. This is a problem we have to fix.”

Two sexually violent crime convictions are required to be placed in civil commitment. Once they have completed their prison sentences, the sex offenders are committed to the program in civil court trials, where legal safeguards to ensure they are competent to understand their rights and the proceedings do not apply as in criminal cases.

McLane, who in May took over the agency responsible for overseeing the program, said she no long enforces a rule that offenders can be discharged if they exhibit medical or mental problems that prevent them from participating.

In other words, a person who has completed his criminal sentence could end up back in prison because his physical or mental disability leaves him unable to complete the treatment program.

“The very reason that they pick them is then the very reason they can’t stay,” said Barbara Corley, who retired last summer from the State Counsel for Offenders, Texas’ public defender’s office. “They aren’t just setting them up for failure; they are criminalizing disability.”

Legislative leaders have called for a top-to-bottom review of the program. Critics say the review critics should include why the mentally ill, the severely developmentally delayed, and the physically disabled are assigned to a program where they are almost certain to fail.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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