In 2015, guards fanned out across Texas with orders to round up 200 men who had completed lengthy prison sentences for sex crimes. The state calls them “sexually violent predators,” men required to register their whereabouts and to participate in a court-ordered monitoring and treatment programs meant to cure them of “behavior abnormalities” and integrate them back into society. At the time of the roundup, most were living in boarding homes and halfway houses, reports the Texas Observer. The men were frisked and driven hundreds of miles to Littlefield, a remote corner of the Texas Panhandle. They live in the Bill W. Clayton Detention Center, a prison that had been empty for six years. They went from living in halfway houses that looked like motels to windowless cells with cinderblock walls, hard steel bunks and metal toilets. Officials at the detention center said this wasn’t a prison. They instructed the men to call their living quarters “rooms,” not cells.
Unlike at the halfway houses, the inmates couldn’t come and go. It wasn’t clear when their sentences would end, if ever. Two and a half years after the Texas Civil Commitment Center opened its doors, only five men have been released, four of them to medical facilities where they later died. Officials claim Texas’ civil commitment program is designed to rehabilitate the men. Families and friends argue the state has stashed them in a for-profit prison far from the support services they’ll need if there’s any hope of transitioning back into society. Lawyers consider the program an unconstitutional extension of the sentences the men have already served. As state and federal inmate populations have leveled off, private prison spinoffs have led to what watchdogs call a growing “treatment industrial complex,” a move by for-profit prison contractors to take over public facilities that lie somewhere at the intersection of incarceration and therapy.