Texas Uses Failed Private Prison to Hold Civilly Committed Sex Offenders
by Matt Clarke
In 2015, Texas converted its outpatient program for civilly committed sex offenders into a “tiered” treatment program, in which participants start out in a “total confinement facility” at twice the cost of the original program. The state awarded Correct Care Solutions a $24 million contract to provide housing and treatment at the Texas Civil Commitment Center (TCCC) in Littlefield, formerly a failed private prison known as the Bill Clayton Detention Facility.
Correct Care had just acquired GEO Care, a subsidiary of the GEO Group – a for-profit prison firm whose 2009 abandonment of the Littlefield facility had almost forced the city into default on its bonds. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.45]. GEO Care had a poor reputation, having been sued multiple times for providing inadequate health care. The company was known for having cooked alive a Florida psychiatric hospital patient who was left in a scalding hot bath, and for providing such abysmal care at a Texas immigration detention center that it sparked a riot.
The state’s contract with Correct Care required it to hire about 100 employees to provide treatment and housing for 277 civilly committed sex offenders at TCCC, which it rented from Littlefield. The contract was extended in 2017.
The intersection of the Texas Civil Commitment Office (a state agency not known for respecting offenders’ civil rights), a private prison spinoff with a questionable history, and a desperate small Texas city with a huge debt load and an empty prison is an example of one development in what has been called the “treatment industrial complex” – when for-profit companies take over correctional treatment programs. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.1].
As part of that trend, Correct Care is making a play for the civil commitment market. In addition to TCCC, it runs a civil commitment center in Florida and has a contract to build a new $36.4 million, 268-bed facility in South Carolina.
Since it opened, over 139 TCCC employees, including eight clinical therapists, have left their positions. Most resigned. One licensed vocational nurse, hired as a “therapeutic security technician,” quit after 18 months because she was appalled at the conditions at the civil commitment facility – especially the lack of medical care.
“A lot of these guys were really old,” she said. “The clinic was always running out of medications or never had the right ones. It was all very unorganized.”
The staff turnover at TCCC has had a detrimental effect on the offenders housed there. Therapy is required for offenders to advance through the four-tiered program and eventually be released on GPS-monitoring as outpatients. If a therapist resigns, offenders receiving treatment from that therapist must start over at the beginning of their tier. Thus, some are faced with the prospect of having to repeat the same tier over and over.
In its 19-year history, no one has ever been fully released from Texas’ civil commitment program. Only five have been released from confinement since TCCC opened – four to go to hospices before they died. Roughly half the offenders in the program were returned to prison for minor violations of their civil commitment conditions.
“To be constitutional, it has to be a therapeutic program,” said Conroe attorney Scott Pawgan, who represents one of the offenders held at TCCC. “It’s got to be the worst therapeutic program in the history of sex offender treatment, far and away.”
Meanwhile, civilly committed sex offenders are required to wear GPS monitors while imprisoned at TCCC. They are told to call their living quarters “rooms,” not cells, and informed the facility is not a “prison” – though the conditions of their confinement, which may include placement in segregation, are similar to those in prison. Participants are called “residents,” not inmates. Texas law allows TCCC to take one-third of any money offenders receive to defray the cost of their treatment and housing. Yet none know when, or if, they will ever be released.
It seems like a prison by any other name is still a prison – or something even worse in this case.
Sources: www.texasobserver.org, www.lubbockonline.com