New director named to state's troubled sex offender agency
Updated 9:11 pm, Saturday, May 3, 2014
AUSTIN – A new executive director will take over the embattled state agency that supervises high-risk sex offenders after they finish serving their prison sentences.
The three-member board for the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management unanimously voted Saturday morning to appoint Marsha McLane, a program specialist for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, to permanently head the agency. According to McLane's resume, she has more than 30 years of experience working in Texas' criminal justice system.
On Thursday, the agency's $84,000-a-year executive director Allison Taylor, resigned amid controversy that's been surrounding the Office of Violent Sex Offender management for more than a month. Taylor, who headed the agency since 2003, oversaw the residential programs for more than 300 sex offenders who have been kept in state custody through civil commitments because of the severity of their crimes.
During Saturday's meeting, the board also unanimously accepted her resignation.
Taylor and the agency first came under fire by in early April after the Houston Chronicle disclosed that more than two dozen high-risk sex offenders had been relocated into the Acres Homes neighborhood in north Houston without advance notice to residents or area lawmakers.
Facing intense community protests, the agency had to backtrack, returning the offenders to a minimum-security halfway house for parolees in east Houston.
Taylor also drew sharp criticism from lawmakers after the Houston Chronicle disclosed that her agency had OK'd a contract to build a prison camp-like center in rural Liberty County to house 50 to 100 offenders without any advance notice to local officials. That project ignited intense protests, as well as several ongoing investigations by the state auditor's office, the attorney general's office and the Travis County Public Integrity Unit regarding alleged contracting and operations irregularities.
During Saturday's meeting, board members unanimously voted to terminate the contract.
"Transparency is very important in this process and that has been the desire of this board and will continue to be," said board member Katie McClure.
A former assistant district attorney and victim's advocate for the Tarrant, Ellis and Brazos County District Attorney's offices, McClure was appointed as the newest board member. Late last month, the agency's former board chair, Dan Powers, resigned amid the controversy. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Elizabeth "Christy" Jack of Fort Worth to take his place.
Lawyers, constitutional experts and mental health professionals have questioned whether the Texas program can withstand a court challenge because of the way it is being operated. Although it is supposed to be a treatment program for sex offenders with "a behavioral abnormality," not one single detainee has successfully completed treatment and been released in the program's 15-year history.