Important Stories: A Prison By Any Other Name by Michael Barajas


I’d like to draw your attention to an excellent article in the Texas Observer describing the civil commitment center in Littlefield, TX. The author, Michael Barajas, perfectly lays out the cruelty, greed, and dishonesty widespread in civil commitment centers nationwide.

I highly recommend that you read the article in full, but I’ve highlighted a few of the sections that I find especially powerful:

First, Barajas reveals the dishonesty of many centers and the lengths they are willing to go to to mislead the public. They pretend as if their purpose is to rehabilitate, but their actions show that they only mean to punish.

“They went from living in halfway houses that looked like motels to windowless cells with cinderblock walls, hard steel bunks and metal toilets. But officials at the detention center were adamant: This wasn’t a prison. They instructed the men to call their living quarters “rooms,” not prison cells.”

Second, Barajas shows how the “treatment” provided in these centers is frequently made impossible to complete. These treatment programs are not intended to ever be completed; they only serve to mask the reality of what’s going on —  people being locked up for life for crimes they never actually committed.

“…lapses in treatment, which [residents] say stem from near-constant staff turnover, have made it virtually impossible to graduate from the program. In letters from inside, some of the men say they’ve had up to six therapists since arriving in Littlefield and claim their treatment starts back at square one each time they get a new one. Individual counseling sessions have gone from once every two weeks to once every three months, they say.”

Third, Barajas draws the important connection between the existence of these facilities and greed of various individuals and corporations. With civil commitment facilities, like with so many other things, you can learn a lot by following the money.

“Critics of private prisons see in the Texas Civil Commitment Center the disturbing new evolution of an industry. As state and federal inmate populations have leveled off, private prison spinoffs and acquisitions in recent years have led to what watchdogs call a growing “treatment industrial complex,” a move by for-profit prison contractors to take over publicly funded facilities that lie somewhere at the intersection of incarceration and therapy.”

Their profit-seeking is shameless.

“While state law allows the program to take a third of any income the men receive in order to help pay for their treatment and confinement in Littlefield, people who send packages to the facility say the company has now applied the concept to gifts. Anyone sending a package to an inmate must submit a receipt for whatever’s inside so officials can charge the sender a third of whatever it’s worth.”

They don’t even try to hide the absurdity of the fees they impose on inmates.

“Some of the men are still required to help pay for ankle monitors, despite their new home being surrounded by a perimeter of two security fences topped with concertina wire.”

One final jaw dropping line from the article:

“Two and a half years after the Texas Civil Commitment Center opened its doors, only five men have been released — four of them to medical facilities where they later died.”

Civil commitment is supposed to be temporary treatment. In reality, it is often a death sentence. 

You can read the full article here: