Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hits keep on coming for TX civil commitment program

Between a new state audit generating unfavorable stories like these:
and the fact that the judge hearing all the state's civil commitment cases, Judge Michael Seiler, appears irreparably biased, perhaps it's time for the state to abandon the civil commitment program altogether or at least reinstate control over the cases to local judges, perhaps managed through local probation offices. Clearly what's happening now is not working.

The program's been a hot mess since I first became aware of it and, while the former executive director Allison Taylor was recently scapegoated out the door, IMO the Lege created most of the problems by crafting an unworkable system then handing control over it to a judge whose personal biases make him unsuited to preside over the cases. (I say his "biases" are the problem but, perhaps more to the point, really it's Seiler's inability to control his mouth that's at issue. The scandal isn't that a judge thinks such things, it's the fact that he voices such opinions in public settings that makes the State Commission on Judicial Conduct unhappy).

Now, as the Houston Chronicle summarized the auditors' report, we learn additional critiques that more directly implicate past management, though in the context of an inherently insular and dysfunctional system. "The agency responsible for overseeing the state's civil commitment program for violent sex offenders awarded most of its contracts without competitive bidding, did not keep appropriate financial records and failed to monitor - or even plan for - the treatment of the men under its supervision." Add to this the fact that it's basically impossible for the agency to find free-world housing for its charges thanks to NIMBY backlashes wherever they try to place them.

Basically, nothing works at all in Texas' civil commitment system. Supervision and programming are ineffectual, finances are unaccountable, housing is non-existent (leaving the state at the mercy of vendors), the sole judge given authority over the cases is routinely recused for personal bias, and the hits just keep on coming. And all this so the state can continue to punish a few hundred people who've already discharged their complete criminal sentences under the law. Grits hasn't dug into this jumbled mess deeply enough to suggest what the immediate fixes are, besides disempowering Judge Seiler and sending the cases back to local judges. But the status quo is untenable.

One suspects the key measures will be filed by Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire, who made a game attempt to exercise oversight during the interim as the agency's situation deteriorated. But flaws in the civil commitment program are embedded in its statutory design, not driven by personalities, even Allison Taylor's or Judge Seiler's. Meaningful solutions - whether reforming the system or ending it - can really only happen while the Legislature is in session. By the end of  May, we'll see what they do.


Anonymous said...

By all means. What is really going on? The Law needs to change. Sex Offenders registration needs to Abolished! Not helping nor Working!

Anonymous said...

Not only does the Civil Commitment Program not work, the Sex Offender Registry does not work as it was intended either. Currently Texas has 84,000+ on the list. How many of those are actually violent offenders who pose a danger? Not nearly as many as you think. But guess what, the law can't watch them like they should because the list is crowed with young men who had consensual sex with their girlfriends and the parents pressed charges; or a kid who streaked at a football game; or kid's who "mooned" a school bus of their classmates. The list, if we should keep it at all, should be restricted to those persons who are found to be repeat offenders, violent or mentally unstable. The cops can keep their own "private list" but frankly, where is the list for the repeat drug dealer selling meth to kids? The repeat wife/child beater? The gang bangers list? The list is ineffective, overblown and lifetime registry is only going to keep the ranks swelling with no increase in oversight.

George said...

I agree wholeheartedly with both of the comments made thus far.

However, the issue concerning sex offenders who are being considered for civil commitment, or who are presently committed, does not go hand in hand with what most convicted and registered sex offenders are required to do. There are convicted sex offenders who will never change -- the sociopaths and psychopaths.

These are the ones that should be committed and the only ones held to the strict laws that presently are in place for all sex offenders. Accurate actuarial risk assessment tools that measure the risk of each individual should be the determining factor in all of this.

97+% of all new sex offenses are committed by someone NOT on the public shaming registry so where the hell is the huge risk to society that the media and politicians keep crowing about? There's money and politics involved in this of course. So that explains most if not all of the situation.

With over 86,000 registered citizens currently on the list out of 17,000,000 Texas citizens, that means that one out of every 200 people you see in our state is a registered sex offender. That's only going to grow. It is time for these people, these citizens, to stand up and let their voices, and their families voices and votes be heard.

Anonymous said...

Here is an idea I think should be considered by Senator Whitmire and his committee: what would be the harm in allowing those who have committed sex offenses (RSO) to go before their convicting court judge and "show cause" why they should be de-registered. Criteria for de-registration could be:
a) must be 50+ years of age
b) must have served 20 consecutive years in TDC
c) Must have 7 clean yeas on parole, i.e., no arrests,violations, dirty UAs etc.,
d) 5 years consecutive employment
e) recommendation of parole officer
These are my criteria, someone else have others but I think these are good.
This could be an adversarial process, meaning the state could send their advocate to "show cause" why the RSO's petition should be denied. If they will feel better, the state could even require the RSO to pay court cost for the hearing. So again, what would be the harm in such a process? If the state believes in what it is doing with SO laws then they should allow such a process and let the chips fall where they may. Herewith, I would ask that Grits try and put this idea in Senator Whitmire's head and ask that he at least sleep on it. What would he have to lose just considering the idea? I myself wrote senator Whitemire's office a lengthy letter detailing this idea back in mid 2014 but got no response. I guess my microphone isn't big enough. So Grits---how bout it?

Anonymous said...

Honestly why should there be a lot of restrictions on when people can deregister? There are a LOT of people on the list that plain shouldn't be there. Many of those are there because of stupid mistakes they made as kids, peeing in a park or streaking for example, why should those kids have their entire lives ruined because of a stupid mistake? If you ask for deregistration with certain criteria you can bet the lawmakers will make them as strict as possible. Instead why don't we ask them for a complete overhaul of the entire SO list and all of the rules pertaining to it? It is obviously broken and does not work as intended so why put band aids on it? Doesn't someone eventually have to see that there is a problem with the system and fix it?

DEWEY said...

Hotel California: "You can check in, but never leave".

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, there is one principal issue that needs to be addressed with SO laws, and that is the US Supreme Court's ruling in Alaska's Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003). In Smith the Supreme Court held that SO registration/residency laws are civil and regulatory and not punitive! This ruling effectively killed any legal aurgument as to Ex Post Facto and Due Process violations. In addition,this is the ruling that opened the door to a proliferation of SO laws in practically every state and many, many cites across this great Christian Country of ours. In Texas, the state passed their SO laws and guess what? made them retroactive back to 1970!!! What the the hell? Yes, 1970. My God! If this isn't vengence/retrobution---I don't know what is. I mean, how many legislators who passed this law was even around in 1970. This law would go on to sweep up--and destroy--people whose crime has been over and done with for decades. How the hell can you justify such an action? I can see the law being effective from the date of its passage, but to make it retroactive back that far and penalize a person is in my opinion---EVIL! And people, mark these words, if SO laws are allowed to stand, in the not to distant future that parking ticket you got a week earlier, that came with a $75 fine (that you paid off) will next month be class C crime with $1000 fine and 90 days in jail that you will be subject to---get it?


Perhaps we should require the Larry Don McQuay option before any thought of any form of release for sex offenders, violent or otherwise! I bet it would pass this legislature.

Anonymous said...

Re the sex offender registry - I don't claim to be an expert on the Texas registry or registries in general. I am aware that some other states use a system where the offender undergoes a risk assessment and is assigned a risk level. Offenders who are low risk aren't required to register. To me that seems like a good system.

Having done child abuse investigations, I think there are at least two types of offenders. Some I would call opportunistic offenders. This may be the stepfather or uncle who takes advantage of a situation but does not actively seek out victims. These offender still should be punished and may present some risk. This is where the assessment comes in, to determine how much risk. For many of these offenders, the shame of being caught will keep them from reoffending and they may be low risk. Then you have the other type - the true pedophile who actively seeks out victims. These offenders may have hundreds of victims over their lifetime. These are the ones where civil commitment may be appropriate. Although, if law enforcement does a good job and finds out how extensive their offenses are, most could be put in prison for life. I'm sure there may be others in between these two types.

George said...

@ SEMPERFINE, If you are talking about castration then you are definitely misinformed. There is no evidence that castration stops deviant thoughts, it just stops the production of semen.

Sounds like you think that all citizens who commit sex offenses, regardless of the severity, should be castrated. That's pretty sick IMHO. As far as I'm concerned sounds like that comes from someone who has been brainwashed by the general consensus floating around out there for so long concerning sex offenders.

As I've stated previously,97% of new sex offenses are committed by citizens (or illegal aliens)who are not presently on the sex offender registry. This is not just for the low risk sex offenders but covers all risk levels.

What the hell does this suggest to you? The impending threat that the politicians and media say that registered citizens pose to society DOES NOT EXIST. PERIOD!

Are there some who will continue to offend? Yes, of course but these are very rare cases and there is an overwhelming amount of hard statistical evidence to prove this. This should not be the reason these laws remain in effect. Other felons with outrageous and heinous crimes against children are not required to undergo such scrutiny and control, why just sex offenses.( Hint -- it's a little three lettered word ).

There are approx. 86,000 registered citizens on the registry, and growing each week. Let's say there is at lease one family member who loves and cares about this registered citizen and who is eligible to vote and in fact does vote.

How about perhaps one other family member or friend who has not been cowed down to follow the mob's view of registered citizens.

This could represent a significant number of votes and could potentially start a change where only change can occur -- at the Capitol and in the courts.

Anonymous said...

So of the above mentioned 84,000 registered sex offenders in the community and thousands more being released yearly, around 360 or so are civilly committed, supposedly the "worst of the worst" sexual predators. If the program is suddenly ended and those supposed worst of the worst sexual predators are suddenly free to go about their business, it's a pretty safe bet at least one or two of them is going to reoffend in an absolutely spectacular way. If you're a legislator voting to end the program, you're staking your career on the hope that none of several hundred sexual predators will reoffend and that "everything will somehow turn out okay." What legislator would vote to put the bell on that career ending cat?

Anonymous said...

"Belling the cat," in case anybody missed the reference: