Thursday, September 03, 2015

End of an Era: Rissie Owens replaced as parole board chair

There was a time when Rissie Owens and her husband Ed were the ultimate Texas prison power couple. He ran TDCJ's institutional division overseeing all Texas prison units and she chaired the parole board which decided how full those prisons would stay. It was a cozy, all-in-the-family arrangement.

Ed retired a few years ago to take an ill-fated turn running the Texas Youth Commission during its darkest days. And now the Houston Chronicle reports that Gov. Abbott has replaced Rissie Owens as parole board chair with David Gutierrez, "who has served on the parole board since 2009, served as the sheriff in Lubbock for 11 years and was chairman of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments Advisory Board. He is a past president of the Texas Corrections Association and the Texas Jail Association."

I like Rissie; she knows how to disagree without being disagreeable and has never been anything but charming and gracious toward me. She grew into the job and in her early days didn't understand how to manage her relationships with the press or the Legislature. Some of her public comments, particularly early on, earned her a reputation as a hard-ass. And sometimes she said things that were just confusing and wrong. Moreover, her defiance of the federal judiciary over assigning sex-offender conditions to offenders not convicted of sex crimes bordered on the insensible.

OTOH, under her watch rising parole rates have accounted for much of the slack space that allowed Texas to close three prison units. Especially on revocation policies, the board embraced reform more than most local probation departments, which did not see revocation rates decline nearly as much as on the parole side, though they were given basically the same tools to accomplish the task.

I spoke briefly this morning with Bill Habern, an attorney based in Huntsville who has practiced in front of the parole board for four decades. He said that "while she's not the best chairman we've had, she's certainly not the worst. Many issues were not in her control. But she was in the job too long and that gives too much of an opportunity for the office to become focused on power and politics and become stale. That would be true of anyone who stayed in office that long, so that's not a condemnation of her personally. But it's time to move along." He thinks Gutierrez has been a fine board member and expects good thing from the former Sheriff.

Habern mainly faulted Owens for failing to address consistently bad legal advice that led the board down rabbit trails the courts would then predictably shut down. Two in particular he mentioned were imposing sex offender conditions on people not convicted of sex crimes and illegally terminating the parent-child relationship without due process. He said she remained loyal to her lawyers even after they consistently gave advice that put the board cross-ways with federal courts and other state agencies.

Habern also faulted Owens for keeping parole commissioner Pamela Freeman as a parole commissioner long after her shortcomings had been identified in multiple grievances by attorneys who practice before the board. Instead, Freeman kept working until she was indicted last year for document tampering in a case which may go to trial by the end of the year. There were plenty of red flags before it came to that, said the lawyer.

Finally, Habern added via followup email, "Even after our law firm had serious differences with the policies of the Board we felt were unconstitutional, and litigation was filed, I must say that Owens and the other board members and commissioners (except Freeman) treated us totally professionally, and with respect. I never felt a hint of retaliation from the legal differences which ended in the court room. I thought that spoke and speaks well of Owens and the other panel voters."

Say what you want to about Rissie Owens - and I'm sure readers will, in the comments - but her departure marks the end of an era for the nation's largest state prison system. Grits wishes her well in all her future endeavors.

18 comments:

Steve said...

Please remember that the parole revocation rates are a sham. They don't "revoke" a significant number of offenders on parole; they just keep sending them back to Intermediate Sanctions Facilities until they've served all their time. Once they're released from in ISF, their rearrest rates are among the highest of all offenders leaving TDCJ. The LBB's report on recidivism from February of 2015 showed three year rearrest rates for offenders leaving ISFs at 58.1%, 57.2%, and 57.5% in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. Regular prison releasees had rearrest rates of 47.2%, 47.3%, and 46.5% for those three years. The only offenders who got arrested more often were those coming out of State Jails (which in themselves are a totally miserable failure that the legislature refuses to address).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

We'll have to agree to disagree, Steve. For starters, probation sends folks to ISFs too.

Parole revocation rates declined and parole rates overall increased slightly since the 2007 reforms. By contrast, probation has been slow to embrace reforms aimed at reducing revocations and their revocation rate declined less, and in some jurisdictions not at all. I have opinions as to why that is the case, but I think one should give credit where credit is due on the parole side. Probation departments are often more worried about keeping caseloads up to keep their budgets going. That's why the Texas Probation Association was bad mouthing de-incarceration reforms at the Lege this spring.

sunray's wench said...

There are still not enough inmates granted parole in the first place, and medical parole is a real issue that TDCJ and the BPP seem unable to agree on. It's not necessarily individuals, but the processes that need overhaul.

Anonymous said...

Grits, can you confirm if Mrs. Owens was Indicted?

Thanks

Larry Coffin said...

I served a 20 year sentence day-for-day with 7 set-offs. The reason I was given for the set-offs was the blanket reason given to most everyone I talked to: "Nature of crime". Never once was I allowed, nor is anyone else, to go before the actual commissioners who would be voting on me. They give guidelines for making a "Parole Packet". A colossal waste of time for the inmate and especially their family members. I do not recall the Ohio lawyers name who filed a class action suit against the board in Judge Joe Sparks' federal court, but I do recall the information I received the lawyer and a watch-dog group. I understand that initially Judge Sparks was ruling against the parole board, and when court reconvened, the judge did a 180 and threw the suit out of court for the reason that it did not meet the class action criteria. I believe that Texas is the only state which does not have any face-to-face with the inmates. They only see a parole counselor who may cover 3 or 4 prison units. Many times, the parole counselors never answer an "I-60" which is a standard form for attempting to communicate with anyone within the system.

Anonymous said...

I AGREE THE SYSTEM SUCKS IN TX

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, she was not indicted, she was just not re-appointed. One of her parole commissioners, Pamela Freeman, remains under indictment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Grits.

Sadly, she'll qualify for immunity and / or simply plead No Contest - Nolo Contendere.

A few years of probation and poof, like it never even happened.

Paul Hoover said...

I use to really cut for you Grits...But I have to say something and believe me it is'nt what should or need be said about Rissie Owens, The Puppet and ISF the not so new sham and extra-incompetent waste of taxpayer funds. After a quarter of a century in the Texas Det of Coruption. Got a few Wardens, PO's, Others removed and ca prove it. Thing is. Everyone goes along to get along and the oversight committees just Look Over everything. I could go on and on, To no ends. But praises for Rissie...Pulll-ese...

Anonymous said...

Keep cuttin man. Maybe Grits is just being facetious or too kind to lay waste to her criminal ass?

I'm also having a hard time dealing with knowing that certain taxpayers are comfortable praising someone that they know to be guilty of committing crimes while on our collective dime & watch. How in the hell can she be removed without first being arrested, arraigned and indicted 'and' held accountable? That's equal to the higher powers also praising her and wishing her good luck.

Oh well, the forms of immunity we allow is no ones fault but ours alone. I know, Shhhh, we are too busy to protest.

SEMPERFINE said...

Please let us know when Betty Wells, the woman who re-instated McDuff on Parole, leading to at least 10 deaths; and who later had to play the race card to retain her job at PPD after being fired for incompetence that led to additional deaths, is allowed to retire with full benefits after the last decade of providing faulty legal advice to Rizzie as her general counsel.

Anonymous said...

Cheers to Governor Abbott for not reappointing the most corrupt parole board chairman I have ever seen. She knew all along what Pam Freeman was doing. Not only did she cover for her, she retaliated against anyone who spoke out against it. Additionally, she made Bettie Wells, the most incompetent attorney in history, general counsel to the board over several good attorneys who went up for it. But that wasn't enough. Owens put her friends and sorority sisters in the top paid positions under the Board, all at the taxpayers' expense. Owens should be indicted along with Freeman, and her sorority sisters should be replaced by qualified individuals who are actually deserving of those positions.

Anonymous said...

One one hand I am glad to see bad go but on the other hand we have went from bad to worst. That Gatesville Board was as corrupted as they come.

Anonymous said...

The cost of insurance is what cuts into Adult Probation's budgets.

The funding from the State is nowhere near what is needed to operate a probation department.

Probation Departments do not use ISFs like Parole does.

You are comparing apples to oranges when parole is compared to probation.

Anonymous said...

Parole uses a voting option of ISF until discharge. It allows for the parole violator to be "locked up" until their discharge date and counts as a successful discharge of parole.

Anonymous said...

What is the latest on the Pam Freeman case? She was supposed to go to trial in June, but I haven't been able to find any news on her disposition.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the parole system is still infested with Rissie Owens' "good old girl and boy" system of hiring. One such example is Margo Green, who is in the process of hiring ex-warden Guyton as a parole officer with plans to fast track him to her assistant position ahead of more experienced supervisors in her office. This tactic was used by Rissie to hire Greene, who still doesn't understand the parole process after 5 years in the system.

Unknown said...

Larry coffin neglected to reveal he did 20 day for day because he raped a little 9 yr old girl. Kudos to Ms. Owens for making scum like this do every day of their sentence. He is free from the bondage of prison now. His victim will never be free from her horrible memory that man inflicted upon her