Repeatedly throughout the 80th Texas Legislature, experts from Dr. Tony Fabelo to the Legislative Budget Board to TDCJ to the Chairs of the Senate Criminal Justice and House Corrections Committee all fingered the parole board's super-low approval rates as a primary cause of Texas prison overcrowding. This Dallas News article shows an example why. Owens and the board simply ignored programs and processes legislators set up in the past, casting doubt for this writer whether she and the board can be counted on to live up to their recent commitments to improve parole rates. Reports the News:
Yeah, I can understand why the inmates would "probably think" that! What inmates couldn't know is that Rissie Owens and the Board of Pardons and Parole routinely and arrogantly flout attempts by elected officials to guide their work, which is a big reason we face a prison overcrowding crisis today.
the Mineral Wells unit is a "pre-parole transfer facility" in name only – a remnant of an ambitious program launched a quarter-century ago aimed at relieving prison overcrowding and reducing repeat offenders.
Three inmates have gone "over the fence" since August. Others have paid hundreds of dollars to join a lawsuit protesting the parole system. And still others have sent lengthy letters to the "free world" venting their frustration.
It has reached such a critical point that officials have started moving some of the inmates back into regular prison facilities for security reasons. Between 50 and 60 inmates who had been denied "mandatory release" four times were transferred .
"If you've been denied mandatory supervision four times, then those offenders may become more frustrated," said Bryan Collier, director of the parole division. "And then they feel they may be more prone to [escape]."
Sonny Morris understands – he's been denied parole twice since arriving here.
"I can't do my time here," he wrote in mid-May. "I'm desperate to get home ... to get back to TDC and out of this ... abyss called Mineral Wells."
Shortly after that letter, the convicted burglar from Dallas committed a minor infraction in the hope that it would get him a transfer out of the parole division and back to the prison system. He asked an officer to smuggle contraband out of the unit. Until then, he had worked hard to maintain a record of good behavior so he would be granted parole.
His plan worked. He is due to be transferred to another unit – without the perks of "pre-parole."
Still, Mr. Morris hopes his chances of release will be better there than in Mineral Wells.
Only about one in 10 Mineral Wells inmates is any closer to release than inmates elsewhere in the system, estimated Rissie Owens, chairwoman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The other 90 percent simply have been assigned there by the parole division of TDCJ and haven't been approved for release by the board.
Because of the name, inmates "probably think ... based on what 'pre-parole' would mean in the perfect world – that they're going to be released," said Ms. Owens.
"The purpose, the role, whatever of the pre-parole transfer facility? Talk to TDCJ," Ms. Owens said.
As mentioned previously, Rissie Owens' husband is Ed Owens, the current Czar at the Texas Youth Commission, placing an inordinate amount of authority over the state's corrections system in this one household.
Testimony earlier this year to the Sunset Commission revealed that the Board of Pardons and Parole is MORE likely to follow their own guidelines for releasing dangerous offenders than nonviolent ones. Ignoring the intended purpose of the pre-parole facility is another example of the BPP failing to exercise its power in the way the Legislature intended. As for "why?," add that, I guess to the growing list of questions Rissie Owens won't answer.