State Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairwoman Rissie Owens confirmed Monday that a special parole review panel approved the conditions of release for a group of at least nine 19- and 20-year-old offenders.
"Let me make it clear that the Youth Commission determined who would be paroled, not the parole board. The parole board just approved the conditions" of that release, she said.
"We have a very small role."
When conditions are approved for other offenders, the details are public. But Troy Fox, Owens' assistant, said Monday that Youth Commission officials kept the files after the Friday vote by board members of the adult parole system.
"The general counsel says that as long as that kid is incarcerated in TYC, we can't give you any information about him," Owens said. I don't have anything to hide ... but I've been told that we can't say anything."
Owens said that once the youths are "received into the (adult) system, I think we can release the information." At that point, though, it is likely they already will be on the street.
Owens said release conditions for at least nine were approved. Fox and Jim Hurley, a Youth Commission spokesman, said there may have been 10. ...
"They are not from the 156 or whatever," he said. Those cases have not yet been sent to the adult parole board, Owens and other officials said.
Of the 156 19- and 20-year-olds now in Youth Commission lockups, an internal report in July showed 134 were headed for parole, 17 were likely to be transferred to an adult prison and the cases of the five others remained undecided.
Owens said although she reviewed each of the initial cases, she did not vote on any. That was done by members of a special committee of the parole board that reviews departing inmates who need intensive supervision.
Her husband, Ed Owens, is the Youth Commission's special conservator, named in June by Gov. Rick Perry to oversee the cleanup of a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal that rocked the agency last spring and led to the ouster of many of the agency's top officials. Commission officials earlier said he approved many, if not all, of the cases voted on Friday.
Rissie Owens said Monday that Dimitria Pope, the Youth Commission's acting executive director, said she was the final authority on who was to be paroled.
I've wondered aloud before why the Governor has chosen to place so much power over Texas' criminal justice system in this one, married couple? Here again, just like when Ed Owens was #2 man at TDCJ, we find that the justice system's interconnectedness requires the pair to interact professionally in ways that inevitably make decisions appear couched in secrecy to outsiders.
Ward quoted Dianne Clements, president of Justice for All, a Houston-based crime victims' advocacy group, criticizing such surrpeptitiousness: "It's the same kind of cloak-and-dagger problem we have with knowing about adults who are coming out on parole, and there's no reason for it," she said.
Would the process look more transparent to the public if two of the key decisionmakers weren't married? Might TYC employees who must deal with the parole board over these 150+ youth feel less intimidated if the chair weren't the conservator's wife? Whatever the reality, the appearance of insider politics in that environment becomes unavoidable.
The Governor could have avoided that by choosing a different conservator, and he's got a chance now to pick a new one - somebody, one hopes, who is a nationally recognized juvenile justice expert, who respects and has the respect of staff, and who doesn't hand off key posts and decisions to people from the adult prison system.
UPDATE: Here's a twist. The Statesman's Mike Ward caught Rissie Owens in a fib when she said the parole board didn't have information about the youth it intends to parole. It turns out the information is in a database from which the BPP routinely releases information, but Owens told Ward she couldn't release it because it wasn't there. When he figured out she'd misled him, the BPP changed its story to say only TYC could sign off on releasing the information. Ward's article has a bit of a "gotcha" tone to it - the BPP's failure to release information by the end of the work day isn't really "news." But more interesting to me is the question, "Why would agency officials mislead him?"
NUTHER UPDATE: Here's a copy of the Aug. 17 memo (pdf) discussed in the comments that apparently gave the Attorney General's official but non-public approval of TYC's plan for paroling violent 19 and 20 year olds.