For many years, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has consisted of 6 Board Office locations in Texas; Amarillo, Angleton, Gatesville, Huntsville, Palestine, and San Antonio. A few months ago, a 7th Board Office was created, and Austin was the location selected. I have been meaning to blog about this development for a while now, and since I have now had the opportunity to advocate to the voters in Austin on a few occasions, I am finally in a little better position to write this post.
About 6 months ago, I had heard that the Board was going to add 2 new Parole Commissioners, but it was not completely clear at the time, from what I had heard anyway,whether these new commissioners would be based in one of the six existing Board Offices, essentially filling in for voters in all 6 offices during periods when a voter was on vacation or when the backlog of files warranted, or whether the Board would create a seventh Board Office.
In approximately March, I learned that the decision had been made to create the Austin Board Office of The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. I quickly learned that the Board Member for that newly created office would be Rissie Owens, the Head of Parole Board, with the two parole commissioners assigned to work in the Austin office as Mr. Elvis Hightower and Mr. Troy Fox, two very experienced and knowledgeable existing Parole Commissioners from the Gatesville Board Office. It made perfect sense to select Mr. Fox and Mr. Hightower, especially considering the numerous other duties Ms. Owens must perform on a regular basis.
In order for Mr. Fox and Mr. Hightower to move to the new Board office in Austin, the Board had to name two new Parole Commissioners and assign them to the Gatesville Board Office, and then quickly train them on a host of matters. The Board named LeeAnn Eck-Massingill and Roel Tejada as the new commissioners in Gatesville, and they are now working under David Gutierrez, who has now been a Board Member for approximately five years. I have already had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Tejada on one ocassion, and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with Ms. Eck-Massingill in the near future.
Although the new Austin Parole office has a relatively small number of prison units assigned to it, it is my understanding that this office is also responsible for voting a certain class of cases that may be drawn from any of the other regions in the state. Previously, voters from other places had to periodically travel to Austin in order to vote those cases. Based on what I have already observed, it can be safely assumed that the Austin Parole team is now in full gear and is staying quite busy.
Although the addition of a seventh board office was likely an administrative decision made to reduce travel costs and modestly reduce the workload for those voters who had to regularly travel, the hidden benefit to inmates and their families is the most exciting aspect of the change, because the addition of 2 more voters may just mean that overall, voters, at least in some places, may have slightly more time to spend looking at a parole file. In my opinion, that’s a very good thing indeed! Now, if the Board could do something about Austin traffic…