At least one new lockup would be opened to house Texas’ most violent sex predators and a lone judge no longer would handle all cases under sweeping reforms proposed to bring the state’s troubled civil-commitment programs into constitutional compliance, the Houston Chronicle reports. A complete restructuring of the 15-year-old program is being mapped out and a bill reflecting those changes will be filed soon. Legislative support is expected. Even the name of the agency in charge of the civil commitment program would change, from the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management to the Texas Civil Commitment Office.
“We are having to have to start from scratch,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who is working with other officials on the reforms. “What we have found is that this program was a model of how not to run a state program. It was a total disaster.” More than 360 convicted sex offenders have been ordered into the program, but not a single one has completed treatment and been set free, leading legal experts to question the program’s constitutionality. About half of those offenders have been convicted of felonies and returned to prison for violating rules. “As the law is applied today it violates the constitutional rights of the men who are targeted by the statute,” said Nancy Bunin, a Houston attorney who has represented men in the program.