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Agency News

Owens named interim executive director of Texas Youth Commission

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Portrait of Ed Owens
Ed Owens
TDCJ Deputy Executive Director Ed Owens has been named acting executive director of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

Owens, 48, had served as TDCJ deputy executive director since 2002, assisting the executive director with the overall management of one of the largest criminal justice agencies in the nation. He has 29 years experience in the field of criminal justice, having started his career in 1977 as a correctional officer at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville. He later served TDCJ in a number of capacities, including parole case worker, a compliance monitor, a prison warden, and as a regional director for the state prison system. He served as TDCJ’s Operations Division director prior to his promotion to deputy executive director.

“I’m honored the TYC Board and the Governor trust my ability to lead TYC during this critical time,” Owens said. “We have a lot of work to do and problems to fix, but I’m confident we can meet that challenge.”

Owens, a Huntsville native, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology and corrections from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. He and his wife, Rissie, have one child.

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3,000 trees grown since 1995

Ornamental tree farm saplings take root across state

One thousand trees planted in plastic pots outside the Polunsky Unit in Livingston will spend three splendid years there being watered, fertilized, pruned and pampered in every way. But they won’t put down permanent roots until they are on home soil. And that could be at any TDCJ prison unit across the state.
McDonald standing in front of rows of potted sapplings
Field Lt. George McDonald, Jr. manages the ornamental tree farm at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston.
Photo by David Nunnelee

Tree seedlings have been nurtured at the Ornamental Tree Farm just beyond the back gate at Polunsky since 1995. The one-acre farm is a joint project between the unit and the agency’s Agribusiness, Land & Minerals Department to produce healthy tree varieties that will benefit prison units. Approximately 3,000 hardwood trees have been shipped from the farm during the past dozen years to all corners of the state. Nearly 1,000 hardy three-year-olds were harvested in January and replaced by seedlings purchased from the Texas Forest Service.

Wardens may plant the farm-raised trees in areas to prevent erosion, provide wildlife corridors and windbreaks, or to soak up water from swampy spots. Available varieties include Live Oak, Green Ash, Bald Cypress, Nutt All, Saw Tooth Oak, Burr Oak, Poplar, Hackberry, Over Cup, Black Gum, and native Texas Pecan.

“We pick trees that we hope will work in different regions of the state,” said Field Lt. George McDonald Jr., who manages the tree farm for the unit. “We go for the hardwoods. Live Oaks are popular because they can grow anywhere, and the Green Ash is a fast-growing tree.”

With a fixed amount of trees harvested each year, wardens are limited to the number they can order once they become available October. Orders to be delivered the following January when the trees are dormant are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Yet McDonald says no requesting unit goes empty handed.

“They’re usually (spoken for) in a week,” he said. “But we make sure that no one particular unit gets all of them. As the trees are going out and people are seeing them, the demand is becoming greater.”

Farm trees start their three years at Polunsky in a three-gallon container. In year two, they are moved to a seven-gallon container, and, finally, to a 15-gallon container for their third year of growth. The farm recently started taking large plastic containers from the soap factory operated by Texas Correctional Industries at the Central Unit in Sugar Land and cutting them in half for use in the repotting of the trees for their third year.
“We’re using an item they have in abundance and we’re avoiding costs even further by not purchasing the larger potting containers,” McDonald said.
Throughout their nurturing at Polunsky, the ornamental trees are watered through a drip irrigation system and fertilized about every three months. When harvested after three years, they generally stand six to eight feet tall and measure two to three inches in diameter. Four offenders assigned to the farm tend to the trees and earn on-the-job training credits through Project RIO (Reintegration of Offenders).
McDonald, a 24-year TDCJ veteran and former U.S. Marine, said that the raising of trees has grown on him.
“Before I started raising trees, all I knew was how to cut them for fire wood,” he said. “It’s a fun project.”

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