As criminals go, these few hundred men officially are labeled the worst of the worst, offenders whose past sexual crimes have branded them as such pariahs that the state has decided to keep them confined in jails and halfway houses and run-down boarding homes across Texas at taxpayer expense, even though they long ago completed their prison sentences.
They were the unknown, until a month ago when the little-known agency that supervises them - the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management - relocated more than two dozen into the Acres Homes neighborhood in north Houston, without any advance public notice, causing controversy and alarm.
A few days later, disclosure of the agency's plan to build a center in rural Liberty County to house perhaps more than 100 offenders there brought immediate local opposition.
But legal experts, former employees and legislators now suggest that the biggest controversy may involve the program itself: Why outpatient treatment supposedly intended to transition offenders out of confinement once they complete rehabilitation programs, never has.
Not one. Not in 15 years.
"The only way out appears to be to die," said Nicolas Hughes, a Harris County assistant public defender who has represented several offenders in the program. "That's not how it's supposed to work. In that regard, it's clearly not constitutional. These people are just being kept locked up."
Proponents of civil commitment programs for sex offenders insist it is legal, pointing to a string of court decisions upholding its strict rules.Chairman John Whitmire of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee recently announced he'll hold hearings to evaluate the agency's housing policies, calling agency management "out of control" and questioning whether the program is "even needed anymore, considering that prison sentences for sexual predators have been increased in the past decade." Unless the committee can identify solutions, though, all the "oversight" in the world won't change the situation. It probably just needs to be scrapped.
While none of the civilly committed offenders ever have been discharged, Allison Taylor, the program's executive director, has said repeatedly that none of the offenders in the program ever have been charged with committing another sexually violent act. "That, to me, is success," she told the Houston Chronicle in 2012.
Taylor, who did not respond to calls for comment, recently has taken official leave, as has program manager Deborah Morgan. Their subordinates now are managing day-to-day operations.
As several critics said in the article, the whole "outpatient treatment" model for Texas' civil commitment program is basically a farce. A former case manager for the agency "came to the conclusion that the rules were designed to send the offenders back to prison, not allow them to successfully complete their treatment." And though civilly committed offenders are supposed to be reevaluated every two years, a former attorney at the State Counsel for Offenders told the paper, "My concern is that the regulating agency is so biased against these guys they don't give them a fair evaluation." That seems to be what's really going on.
Honestly, I don't know why anyone would ever agree to serve on the agency's board. Nothing they do will prevent them from being scapegoated by politicians and/or neighborhood groups, even if they ensure every offender under their charge never commits another sex offense. Nobody wants these folks housed in their zip code, even individually, much less en masse. Yet, they've completed their prison sentences and must live somewhere. It's a classic Catch-22: There's no viable solution that can please the agency's critics. You couldn't pay me enough to do Allison Taylor's job.
MORE: Embattled agency chief retains attorney who thinks civil commitment program is unconstitutional. AND MORE: State may fire agency director.