The board that oversees the state’s revamped violent sexual offender program is heavy with Tarrant County representation.
Christy Jack, a former Tarrant County prosecutor who has chaired the five-member governing board of the Texas Civil Commitment Office, has agreed to spend another two years on the board and will retain her position as chairwoman.
Rona Stratton Gouyton of Fort Worth is a new appointee to the board. Gov. Greg Abbott picked Gouyton for a term that expires in February.
Abbott also re-appointed Katie McClure, a Houston-area attorney who is also a former Tarrant County prosecutor.
The sex offender program has been controversial since its inception in 1998. None of the more than 350 men ordered into the program have been allowed to complete the program and be released; nearly half have been sent back to prison for violating program rules, the Houston Chronicle has reported.
The Legislature overhauled the program last year amid fears that it violated constitutional guarantees.
Gouyton is a victims advocate who frequently speaks with law enforcement on victims issues. She is a founding member of Victims of Violence and Families of Murder Victims and served as a member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles Victim Advisory Board.
Her sister, Retha Stratton, was fatally stabbed in 1982. A Castleberry High School classmate, Wesley Wayne Miller, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing her. Gouyton has worked hard to keep Miller locked up.
Friday night, she said the new program should allow for sex offender treatment, and eventual release, as long as offenders complete the program and follow the rules.
“These people got to where they are because of the choices they made, and the choices they make in the future will determine whether they progress through the system,” she said.
Jack, now a partner at the Fort Worth-Dallas based law firm Varghese Summersett, has led the program through some evolutionary changes.
“I am honored that Governor Abbott has placed his trust in me,” Jack said. “I look forward to serving in this capacity and overseeing this vitally important program. “
Jack was appointed in April 2015, about a year after Dan Powers, the former chairman, resigned. In May 2014, Allison Taylor, who was then executive director, also stepped down, as the state began examining the program for rule violations.
The state’s civil commitment program was created as a kind of outpatient program for soon-to-be-released inmates who have two sexual-offense convictions and are found to have a “behavioral abnormality” that would make them likely to re-offend. Initial hopes were that successful treatment would eventually enable the clients to function independently.
But the program faced several major hurdles and was changed from an outpatient program based on halfway houses in communities to a program that required enrollees to be housed in a secure facility where treatment is required.
It took months for the state to find a community that was willing to accept the more than 200 inmates in the program. Eventually Littlefield, a town about 40 miles northwest of Lubbock, was chosen as the site for the new state “facility.”
Michael Seiler, the Conroe judge who presided for years over the civil commitment program, resigned in February as part of a deal with prosecutors that ended a criminal investigation of a campaign mailing he sent to former jurors, the Chronicle reported.
Before his resignation, lawmakers stripped Seiler of his authority over all of Texas’ civil commitments after he was reprimanded by a state judicial commission for perceived bias against certain offenders and their attorneys.
This story contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.