Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rissie Owens drawn into TYC parole mess for 19-20 year olds

While Ed Owens reportedly seldom shows up for work anymore as the Texas Youth Commission conservator and recently announced his retirement (he's continuing to serve as a "volunteer"), his wife Rissie, who chairs the adult Board of Pardons and Parole, appears to be doing the heavy lifting in the family on one of TYC's stickiest problems - what to do with 19-20 year olds who the law bars from TYC but who Rissie wouldn't let on parole? Reported the Statesman's Mike Ward this morning ("Some youth commission inmates approved for parole," Sept. 18):

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.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am confused!!! I am a parent of one of these 19-20 yr olds and we were told that they are going to let them stay at TYC until their MLC has been met. They stated that since they were in PRIOR to SB103 that the new law does not apply to them and they can finish their original term. But nowhere in that article do they mention that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm afraid I don't understand what's going on beyond what's in the article. All that detail was news to me about prospects for the 150+. But I'm pretty sure the legal problem is precisely that SB103 DOES apply to those 19-20 year olds, according to Howard Hickman who formerly worked at the general counsel's office. My best guess is that nobody really knows right now - in the end it may all go to court and then some judge will probably decide. But right now it's all very much in flux, and as Ward's article mentioned, mostly being decided in secret, I'm afraid, with little public process.

Anonymous said...

The AG's office grandfathered all of the 19 years old plus youth offenders that are currently at TYC based upon old law. The new law which came from SB-103 does not apply to these youth. Or that was what had been reported by the AG's office ;}

Anonymous said...

Confusion, what confusion? Everything is fixed at TYC so what’s to be confused about? Representative Madden has reported to us TYC is a safer place today because of the Legislature’s work. No doubt Representative Madden has toured many of the TYC facilities and personally talked to the staff and inmates giving him a firsthand look at the situation. All the stories of staff walking off the job on a daily basis are just untrue stories. Everything is fine at TYC and the staffing ratio is 1:12 or better. There are so many people who want to work for TYC our HR department is covered up with phone calls. I do not understand why so many people think TYC is still in trouble. With the highly experienced administrative staff of seasoned juvenile justice experts at the helm what could possibly be wrong at TYC? We at TYC are making a difference in the lives of the children in our care. I would like to give a big Thank You to our friends at TDCJ and the parole board who have been so helpful in our valiant effort to change TYC into a model Juvenile justice program we can all be proud of. Please keep your supportive phone calls and letters coming because we find them so inspirational and heart warming.

D.P.

Anonymous said...

11:32 and the parent at 10:48 are right. The AG and TYC's General Counsel made this decision formal in an August 17 letter. For some reason, they seem to be keeping this letter under wraps, even though it would help clear up a lot of the confusion you're talking about, Grits. I'll bet you can get it via open records request...

Anonymous said...

Yep.

Gov. Gay Goodhair doesn't give a shit about anyone othern than his own worthless self.

The appointment of Owens was as much a coverup as the termination of many long time TYC staffers who were in CO.

And the decisions were just as public.

Anonymous said...

A couple of points. I was not aware that TYC's General Counsel and Sharon Pruitt in the AG's Office had the authority to change the law. For there to be any binding legal opinion from the AG's Office, it needs to come out as a formal AG Opinion which is a public document. I have not seen any indication that the AG is going to issue such an opinion. I question as to if the AG's Opinion Committee would follow the legal reasoning of Steve and Sharon.

Second point, the youth who are to be released are those who were approved for release before SB 103 took effect. The question that should be asked is why did it take over three months to release these youth.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Well, let's get an Attorney General opinion on it then!

How do we do that, Howard?

OLD FAITHFUL said...

IMO, Govenor Perry knew exactly what he was doing when he chose the Owens' family. This tactic is called "politics as usual." Is anyone REALLY surprised? Politics have been contaminated for a long, long time. It didn't start with Govenor Good Hair, and it's not likely to stop there either. TYC's problems are but a speck in the corrupt governmental galaxy.

I wear dem pants damit! said...

Henson, I see you have a new poll table on the main page. Maybe your next poll question ought to be:

"Who wears the pants in the Owens family?" or better yet "Who holds the keys in the Owens family?"

Anonymous said...

An AG opinion requires the head of a state agency, the chairman of a legislative committee, county attorneys, etc. to request one. If TYC were serious about the law on the issue, an AG's opinion would have been requested months ago.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Hey Howard, TYC-OIG can request as well- right?

Anonymous said...

6:56,

The legal ability of the Inspector General or the Ombudsman to ask for such an opinion would require more legal research than the improbability of such an occurrence would justify.

Howard A. Hickman

I still wear da' pants said...

If a pig has a curly tail, is it because:

(a) the pig is predisposed genetically to have a curly tail; or
(b) the pig has sat on his ass so long that the environment played a role in that curly tail development.

We MUST have answers to these questions.

Anonymous said...

7:35,

As any Aggie knows the only answer to your question is (a). Now move on to something related to the subject matter or at least come up with a real question.

Anonymous said...

Howard, I do not pretend to know the legal technicalities, but when the Sentenced Offenders law was changed back in the 90's, we had "old law" and "new law" youth for whom we had to use separate conditions for release or transfer decisions. It seems they are applying the same standard here. It seems, on the surface to make logical sense, but I'm not sure if it is good law.

On a personal level, my concern is for those youth who have not met their MPOC and who, through no fault of their own, are facing possible transfer to TDCJ-ID. Old Salty.

Anonymous said...

The AG's office did write a letter to TYC executive staff regarding the issue on 19-20 year olds but it is simply on plain letterhead and not referred to as an AG Opinion - like all those that become automatically public. Anonymous at 5:21 is right about the date of the letter, etc. I've seen the letter but was told not to tell anyone where I got it and it has not been distributed to TYC staff as a formal opinion.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, that clears it up! Clear as mud!

Anonymous said...

Why would they write it on plain letterhead? And why wouldn't TYC want to share it? Sounds fishy.

Anonymous said...

A letter on AG letterhead is not a binding legal opinion that has the force of law as that of a formal AG opinion. If it is not signed by Greg Abbott, it has no more precedental value than a letter written by an other lawyer.

9:40, did Greg Abbott sign this letter?

Old Salty, the difference between that old law and SB 103 is that the old law expressly stated what law would apply to what category of youth and for how long. SB 103 did not. That is the difference between a law drafted by a juvenile law expert like Professor Dawson and SB 103.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Howard A. Hickman you are a bad boy! You should not be telling all the little people about policy and law. We need to keep them uninformed and ignorant so we can have our way with the truth as we want it to be.

Also the reference to Good Hair as GAY Hair was uncalled for! I know the rumors about Good Hair's sexual orientation have been floating around Austin for years but he has never been caught tapping his foot in the men's room at the air port.

Anonymous said...

Why do agency officials such the Owens's mislead anyone? When you believe yourself to be above the law, it's only natural. Not all the crooks in TDCJ (and now in TYC)are locked up in TDCJ. And when they have the backing of a group of legislators with ulterior motives...bingo!

Anonymous said...

I have a copy of the August 17th letter. It is signed by Steve Foster (TYC General Counsel) and Sharon Pruitt (Assistant Attorney General OG's Office). If there is a way to post to this site, let me know and I can post a copy of the letter.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What format do you have the letter in? If it's something you can email, shoot it over at shenson@austin.rr.com. Otherwise, you can snail mail it to the PO Box in the sidebar and I'll figure out how to get it online. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It's a PDF.....I'll email it to you.

Anonymous said...

Howard, couldn't TJPC or Chairman Dutton request an AG ruling? Who else can ask? Why do you say that the OIG and Ombudsman can't/won't? Are they under the category of entities that are allowed to ask? Technically the Ombudsman's office is an independent state agency. Why not write to TJPC, Chairman Dutton, or the Ombudsman and ask them? I know you're invested in making the case that TYC's legal dep't is a joke, but like Old Salty said, think of the kids that will be transferred to TDCJ through no fault of their own. Let's figure out how to get a definitive ruling in place that will stick.

Anonymous said...

I have to make one big point here after reading all the comments posted ... and that is that these kids are serving time for criminal behavior. Sure, while in a TYC facility, they deserve to be protected and to serve their sentence in a legal and timely manner. But THEY committed a CRIME. My tax dollars are paying for their meals, my tax dollars are paying for their education, my tax dollars are paying for the TYC facilities, guards, educators, councelors, and admin staff.

Government is not perfect, and so many Politicians are self serving. However, it is almost humerous to me to read the comments regarding Mrs. Rissie Owens being drawn in as some sort of Big Brother Conspiracy or that there is this gigantic nepitism within this agency and TDCJ, or how it's all running in a secret, undercover way.

TYC is a safer place for the kids who have committed crime. There has been light shed on the problems and things are progressing. Progressing in a way that honestly, will not suit everyone who reads this. Some want it faster, some want this, some want that, complain, complain... what a bunch of freaking whiney people!!!

The State of Texas is a big governmental body. In order to make State of Texas Agency changes, it takes time. It takes focus and energy. You must understand that the agency is doing what it is told to do by the Legislature. The group of people that YOU elected into public service. When you have that many people making decisions... it can slow the process down.

But above all - above all - the group of kids we are talking about are violent offenders. I am glad they are taking the time to get opinions and such. As a parent, I don't want some TYC Murder Offender moving into my neighborhood without the proper supervision. Do you???

Anonymous said...

10:54.....Your point that change takes time is well made and understood by many. However, please do not fool yourself in thinking that TYC Central Office has things under control. There are BIG problems with TYC and if the people at the helm cannot do the right thing, then where does that leave TYC as a whole?

Not sure what your point is about your tax dollars.....our tax dollars pay for alot of things including TYC and TDC incarceration. Keep in mind though, that alot of parents of incarcerated kids are paying TYC directly through court orders for TYC to house/feed/etc their kids.

Bottom line is we all know that alot of these kids are violent offenders, but you have to keep in mind that TYC is setup for rehabilitation. That is the whole goal for these kids. If TYC as a whole is not fixed, then you probably do not need to worry about these kids coming out on parole now....you need to worry about the ones that will come out later as adults that were beat/pepper sprayed/screwed/taken advantage of/lied to/mentally abused/etc. Those will be the ones to be scared of!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:54, when you write, "TYC is a safer place for the kids who have committed crime," my question would be safer than what? Have you been paying attention to the allegations at McFadden Ranch? Ben Raimer from UTMB says kids are getting worse health care than a year ago. The Blue Ribbon Panel complains of the agency's "punishment culture." What makes you say they're safer? Have you any evidence?

While I agree that "there has been light shed on the problems," to judge by the last joint legislative hearing on TYC it's just not true to say "things are progressing." In fact, arguably the agency is REgressing, and is as dysfunctional as at any time in its history, to judge by Dr. Bush's accounts. Honestly, they can't even get agency rulemaking right, as evidenced by the pepper spray lawsuit.

Saying "TYC is safer," or "TYC is fixed" without any supporting argument is a media soundbite, one that IMO becomes less and less credible the more one pays closer attention to what's happening on the ground. best,

Anonymous said...

While I agree all of the conspiracy theory stuff can get old, it's important to note, 10:54, that the majority of these kids are NOT in TYC for violent offenses. In 2005, 60% were non-violent offenders. The kids Mike Ward is referring to is a teeny-tiny percentage of all of TYC kids.

Anonymous said...

8:29,

There are some interesting legal issues on the Ombudsman and the IG asking for an AG opinion, but it is really a waste of time to discuss the subject since the likelihood of either asking for one is significantly less than me winning the state lottery. I am not wasting my time on that. As to who can ask for an AG opinion see my previous comment.

As to a definitive ruling, I believe that a court will soon be asked to address that issue, and in the scheme of things, courts trump AG opinions.

11:56,

I assume that you do not want to imply that I ever said anything about the governor and that you were referencing someone else's comment.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

I think 11:56 was trying to slip in his/her own little snipe at the guv, under color of "quoting" Howard. Cheap shot! Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I just watched DOG on TV last night. I really like how we are modeling our programs after that show. You know the whole family is in the act, like Dog himself, (Duane), Beth, Duane Lee (the son) and Leyland, and Baby Lisa. I don't know all of their names, but, you know it is all in the family (Ed, Rizzy). And you can certainly recognize them from the criminals, like we are trying to do, you know, all the vests like JCOs wear. Theirs have a little more Bling factor, acutally a lot more Bling factor. They also have the the pepper spray, yelling cussing, then forgiving and caring. Like alot of dorms I have seen.

Even if we only have 2 family members, they all come from the TDCJ family. And just like DOG, they all have a past. Take Ed for example, he has a sex abuse scandal reported by the DMN, DOG has a murder conviction.

The truth of the matter is, is, that this is all very sickening. DOG is entertainment, although I do think he probably does more good than bad.

TYCs news and developments and leadership is just pathetic.

Anonymous said...

9/19 2:57p; then why are all the people tyc wants to let out convicted of violent crimes -- not drug/property offenses -- crimes like Aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, capital murder. Pay attention!This is the problem -- not teeny, tiny percentage of kids in TYC -- 100% of ones they want to release.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

TYC's population was 4,700 this spring and 2,700 now. They've released a LOT more than these 150 kids. Maybe you need to pay more attention?

Anonymous said...

By the current numbers, TYC is also over populated by about 450-500 youth, who will soon be released. These will likely be general offenders, youth who have deferred sex offender registrations who will no longer qualify for that because they will not have completed treatment (as if they can, considering Resocializatoin doesn't exist any more), and youth committed for misdemeanors (if there are any of those left). There are probably some who had their parole revoked and returned before SB103 was signed, so have no minimum and, even though they can't manage being in the community and continue to commit crimes, will likely be released again since they are now 'over' the minimum they don't have . . . how's that for feeling safe???

Of course, if they have assaulted 3 or more people in the past 6 months, Bronco Billy could order them placed on a BMP, without due process, and even if they don't meet criteria. . . wonder what those numbers are looking like . . .

Anonymous said...

Grits,

Your point is still true, but it looks like you may have gotten your numbers wrong from what was said at the last hearing. The 4,700 includes institutions, halfway houses and privately-operated contract care programs. The current 2,700 is institutions only. The current total comparable to the 4,700 is about 3,450.

Anonymous said...

As Dr. Phil is fond of saying, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy." Ed must listen to Dr. Phil.