HOUSTON (AP) - A state lawmaker has called for a review of security procedures at a Houston-area halfway house from which 100 parolees fled in the past four years and recently began housing more than two-dozen high-risk sex offenders.
The Southeast Texas Transition Center is the state’s largest contracted halfway house. It is a home for sex offenders held via civil commitments under a program overseen by the state Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, as well as 468 parolees under the supervision of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
According to TDCJ officials, 100 parolees have fled the halfway house since 2010 and have not been found, a Houston newspaper reported Saturday. A number of other parolees have left without permission but were either apprehended or returned voluntarily.
Between 1,400 and 2,500 parolees arrived at the facility each year during the same period.
Additionally, at least three civilly committed sex offenders also fled the facility between 2012 and 2013. Each was captured.
These escapes of sex offenders prompted state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, to call for a review of the facility’s security as well as its civil commitment program.
TDCJ Deputy Director Bryan Collier said authorities have conducted security reviews of the facility in the past and regularly make improvements.
While authorities closely monitor the movement of the parolees, some of whom are required to wear ankle monitors, Collier said the facility is not a prison nor is it treated that way.
“It’s not a prison, so it’s not the same level of security you would have at a prison,” he said.
The halfway house recently received 28 high-risk sex offenders who have finished their prison sentences but whom state officials consider too dangerous to be set free.
Whitmire said the facility’s minimum security is what makes it the wrong home for the high-risk sex offenders, and suggested they be permanently moved to security lockups in a rural area or industrial neighborhood.
Officials said the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management is negotiating to relocate the offenders permanently, possibly to an empty, 48-bed lockup in Caldwell County or another secure location.
Others argue the facility and other lockups are not appropriate placements for the offenders because they do not meet the standards of a treatment environment.
Nancy Bunin, a Houston attorney representing one of the men in the program, said placing the committed offenders in lockup facilities in rural areas does not give them the opportunity to successfully reintegrate back into society.
“If they are sequestered into this rural facility, it keeps them from doing that,” she said.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com