In the latest controversy surrounding the beleaguered Texas Office of Violent Sex Offender Management (OVSOM), the agency that oversees the approximately 300 civilly committed sex offenders in Texas, Avalon Correctional Services sent OVSOM a letter telling it to remove the 67 civilly committed sex offenders (CCSOs) residing in its halfway houses in Dallas, El Paso and Ft. Worth. That represents about half of the 140 CCSOs who reside outside of prison. Over half the CCSOs have been returned to prison for violating stringent civil commitment rules and none has ever been released from the program, prompting criticism that the program, which is supposed to provide treatment for sex offenders suffering from "a behavior abnormality," might not withstand a court challenge to its constitutionality.
Avalon contracts with OVSOM to house CCSOs for $44 per CCSO per day. It recently requested an increase to $61.81 per CCSO per day. As justification for the increased rate, Avalon cited increased litigation by CCSOs requiring its employees to travel from El Paso to the Texas court designated by statute to handle the CCSO cases in Montgomery County near Houston. The letter also complained of the agency’s "lack of communication, [lack of] support and secretiveness." The letter also cited, "recent scathing media and political criticism of OVSOM that has been disseminated throughout Texas."
OVSOM said it denied the rate increase request because Avalon failed to appear at a meeting of the board overseeing OVSOM to explain and justify the rate hike. The agency noted that the increase would have resulted in additional costs exceeding $400,000 a year. Even at the $44 rate, the OVSOM pays over $2.25 million a year to house 140 CCSOs.
Avalon first began seeking a rate increase after 0VS0M's former Executive Director Allison Taylor approved a daily rate of over $80 per CCSO for a new 100-bed private facility it approved to have built in Liberty County. That plan fell through after the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles that revealed the plan and noted OVSOM had failed to inform local officials of its plans to build the facility in their county. The series also revealed the OVSOM had placed CCSOs into a north Houston boarding house and an Austin neighborhood without telling local officials or residents. Public outrage over these and other mismanagement issues at OVSOM led to Taylor's resignation.
John Whitmire (D-Houston), chairman of the state Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, referred to the Avalon letter as "extortion."
"The Legislature is not going to look favorably at this demand and I've told other agencies that do business with them to hold up on any contracts they’re considering with Avalon until we get this resolved," said Whitmire. "Those offenders re not going anywhere."
Avalon contracts with other agencies to house parolees in its halfway houses. This is a much larger business than housing CCSOs.
Current OVSOM Executive Director Marsha McLane said that the agency was attempting to negotiate with Avalon, but would come up with another plan to house them if need be.
Harris County assistant public defender Nicolas Hughes, who has represented several CCSOs, said the current problems reflect the need to reform the program, which originally was designed to allow CCSOs to remain in their homes under intensive supervision, including ankle monitors. No sex offenses were committed by CCSOs when the program was structured that way.
"I think this is a good time for OVSOM to start sending these people home where they should have been residing in the first place," said Nicolas.
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