What does Rissie Owens have to hide?
After a KHOU reporter spent last Tuesday chasing Parole Board Chairwoman Rissie Owens around the capitol seeking comments for this story, her PR person sent him a letter that KHOU posted online saying flatly that she wouldn't agree to be interviewed on camera. Period. The flack did provide some statistics responding to the questions Greenblatt was shouting after Owens as she scurried away from him at the capitol last week, but I thought they were presented in a misleading way. Here's the letter's text:
Mr. Fox provides some interesting stats, but he's arguing against a straw man. Of course the release guidelines countenance lower release rates for violent offenders than nonviolent ones, so the low release rate for level 1 offenders, for example, proves nothing.
Chairman Owens asked that I contact you and advise that she regrets that she will be unable to grant you an on camera interview at this time. We do not recall any appointment with you for an interview with her and she does not recall requests for information since your attempt to interview her as she exited a hearing at the Capitol. She will prepare a response to specific questions if requested to do so.
Regarding the last question I believe you asked her, the Sunset Commission’s Report was referenced as reflecting more violent and sex offenders were being paroled than ever before.
The discussion in the Sunset report to which you refer involves their finding that the Parole Board is allegedly not following its approved parole guidelines. Below is some background on parole guideline information you may find helpful.
The revised parole guidelines consist of two major components that interact to provide a single score. The first is a Risk Assessment Instrument that weighs both static and dynamic factors associated with the offender's record. The other component is Offense Severity class. After both of these factors have been considered, the two components of the guidelines are then merged into a matrix that creates the offender’s Parole Guidelines Score based on the intersection of his risk level and the offense severity rating. Parole Guidelines Scores range from 1 for an individual with the poorest probability for success, up to 7 for an offender with the greatest probability of success.
The higher an offender’s score, the better risk he is predicted to be to complete parole. The guidelines are not automatic nor is the parole guidelines score presumptive as to whether an offender will be paroled. Board members retain the discretion to vote outside the guidelines when the circumstances of an individual case merit their doing so.
Please reference the attached spreadsheet depicting the Board’s voting in FY 2005 with relation to offense type (parole and discretionary MS) and parole guideline levels (parole approval rates only).
As you can see the Board in this past fiscal year ending 8/31/2006 reviewed 26,993 violent or sex offenders and approved for parole only 18.26%. This contrasts their review of 43,401 non-violent/non-sex offender cases, of which they approved 33.53%. Secondly, of those offenders with the low parole guideline scores of 1 and 2 (high risk and high offense severity), they approved 5% of the level 1 scores (37 of 728) and 15% of the level 2 cases (1,346 of 9,004). The criticism of the Board’s use of their guidelines does not involve their low approval rate of violent and sex offender cases, but rather their failure to have a higher approval rate for parole guideline level 6 and 7 cases. The Board retains the discretionary authority to make parole release decisions based on their overall review of each case considered and they have chosen to vote outside their guidelines in some cases when they believe it to be in the best interests of society and for the safety of the public. Many offenders incarcerated for DWI offenses score in the level 6 and 7 guideline level, but most persons incarcerated for such are not in prison for their first DWI conviction, and “in-prison” substance abuse treatment is severely lacking. Many of these cases may be denied parole upon initial parole review despite guideline scores of 6 or 7.
Lastly, please refer to the TDCJ website under “Publications” for TDCJ’s FY 2005 Statistical Report and FY 2006 Statistical Report. There are voluminous statistics there you may find of interest.
Page 21 of the FY 2005 report reflects 10,522 or 32% of the 32,124 offenders received in prison that year were for “Violent” offense types, which was the highest category of new receives. Page 42 of that report reflects that in FY 2005, 5,520 “Violent” offense type offenders were released to parole supervision. This was 18% of the 30,885 total releases from prison to parole supervision.
The FY 2006 Statistical Report, page 22, reflects 10,677 or 32% of the 33,253 offenders received in prison that year were for “Violent” offense types, which as usual is the highest category of new receives to prison. Page 43 of that report reflects that in FY 2006, 5,856 “Violent” offense type offenders were released. This was again 18% of the 32,585 total releases from prison to parole supervision.
From previous information I provided you, the prison system's total population rose steadily each year from 2001 to 2006. The more offenders received each year and the impact of more offenders reaching calculated parole eligibility, results in more parole reviews; however, the statistics over the last two years do not reflect any increase in the parole release percentages of those with violent or sex offenses (18% of the total releases each year).
Troy Fox, Board Administrator
Austin Board Office
The criticism is that the parole board is MORE likely to follow its guidelines for those offenders than for lower level nonviolent ones. Their release rates for the higher level offenders tend to fall within the guidelines. For level 6 and 7 offenders, they don't. And now we're to the point where those low-level offenders are taking up spaces needed for more violent ones. THAT's the complaint - Mr. Fox is serving up a plate of statistical red herring.
Also, if 32% of people entering prison last year were there for "violent type offenses," doesn't that mean that 68% were for NON-violent offenses? If most people entering prison are nonviolent offenders and the lowest level offenders aren't being paroled according to the guidelines, then THAT's precisely why "the prison system's total population rose steadily each year from 2001 to 2006." Don't you get it, Mr. Fox? That was the Sunset Commission's point! The Parole Board is CAUSING Texas' overincarceration problem.
What a disingenuous response! No wonder Rissie Owens doesn't want to speak on camera.
UPDATE: From the "Just the facts, ma'am," department, see page 17 of this presentation from Tony Fabelo for a statistical adumbration of how the parole board is more likely to follow its release guidelines for high-risk than for low-risk offenders. Sorry Mr. Fox, that dog won't hunt.