Frequently Asked Questions About Parole in Texas
10 Parole Questions and Answers Provided by Houston, Texas Lawyer Greg Tsioros
1. What’s the Difference Between Parole and Probation?
Parole and probation are both alternatives to serving time behind bars. Both parole and probation have many stipulations the individual must follow, or otherwise be in jeopardy of a probation or probation violation, and ultimately, placed in jail or sent back to prison. The similarities of parole and probation stop here, however.
Probation is granted to an individual charged with a crime before sending the person to jail or prison. An individual is placed on probation for a specified period. At the expiration of this time, the person is released from probation if they’ve followed the rules of probation and paid accompanying fees.
Parole is granted after an individual has served a partial term of a sentence in prison. Usually, parole hearings are granted after 1/3 of the sentence has been fulfilled. An experienced attorney can assist with the review and application for parole. It isn’t easy to make parole, especially in Texas, so those fortunate enough to get the opportunity must be on their best behavior and follow all laws and rules of parole. This might include house arrest, admission into a rehabilitation program, or other stipulations. Failure to follow the rules, or in the instance of being charged with another crime, can result in a parole violation.
2. What Are the Requirements to be Eligible for Parole?
Parole is an opportunity at freedom and a second shot at life. Parole isn’t granted to all of the more than 10,000 inmates in the state who are eligible; only a select few who meet eligibility requirements and other factors are granted parole each year. Inmates with a sentence indicating parole eligibility are granted a parole hearing after serving 1/3 of the original sentence, except in the case of inmates serving time for sexually violent crimes or first-degree felonies. Inmates with life sentences must serve a minimum of 35 years before becoming eligible for parole.
Good time credit may reduce this time, and the inmate must be given a parole hearing before serving 15 years. The Parole Board determines whether to keep the inmate in prison and hear the matter at a later date or give them immunity and a second chance at life. The Parole Board bases their decision upon several factors, including the inmates’ behavior during incarceration, programs completed while in prison, contributions made to other inmates/society while in prison, and the inmate’s threat to public safety, if released.
It is also important to understand the inmates plans, if they are released, such as living arrangements and employment details. The Parole Board wants to know the inmate will be a productive member of society before considering their release.
3. What Are the Different Types of Parole Releases?
Parole is defined as the release of an offender by the decision of the Board of Paroles and Pardons and is granted on a case-by-case basis. This type of parole is restricted to those not eligible for mandatory supervision.
The type of parole release depends on specific criteria, such as the amount of time the individual served and the crime for which they were convicted. The Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons sets the conditions for release, which can include:
- Individual counseling
- Sex offender registration
- Participation in educational programs
- Intensive supervision
- Electronic monitoring
- Participation in alcohol or drug treatment programs
- Mandatory drug monitoring
Mandatory supervision is the automatic release from prison to supervision as provided by law for restricted categories of offenders. Mandatory supervision does not require approval by the Board of Paroles and Pardons. However, the Board does set mandatory conditions for release.
The offender is released when their calendar time served plus their good time credit equals the length of their criminal sentence. Mandatory supervision levels can be minimum, medium, or maximum.
Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision or Special Needs Parole is an early release program for non-violent offenders who are:
- Terminally ill
- Physically handicapped
- Mentally ill
- Have an intellectual development disorder
These offenders pose no threat to public safety.
The Super-Intensive Supervision Program (SISP) is reserved for violent, assaultive offenders. It is the highest level of supervision and involves mandatory electronic monitoring and full compliance with 24-hour, pre-written schedules approved by the offender’s parole officers.
Quarterly reporting allows paroled offenders to meet with their parole officers every 90 days instead of monthly or more frequently. However, the offender must meet stringent criteria to qualify.
4. How Can I Check Parole Status?
In the state of Texas, anyone can check the current parole status of a person released from prison. You can check parole status by email, phone, or online portal. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is responsible for administering prison paroles and the state prison system.
- To check by email, you need the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ID number or the individual’s exact birthday as well as their full and correct legal name.
- To check by phone, call during the business hours of 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. You need the individual’s name and state ID or TDCJ number. Alternatively, you need the individual’s full name and exact date of birth.
- To check by portal, access the TDCJ website and fill out as much information as you have on the individual.
If you want the location of an offender or general information, you can contact the Huntsville Board of Pardons and Paroles.
5. What Are Texas Parole Laws?
Texas Government Code, Chapter 508, governs parole laws in the state. These laws mandate the length of time an inmate must serve before becoming eligible for parole, the eligibility requirements of parole, and several other important pieces of information. Any inmate who is soon becoming eligible for parole, as well as their immediate supporting family members, should familiarize themselves with this Code before the date of parole hearing.
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6. What Happens During a Parole Hearing?
The Board of Paroles and Pardons holds a parole hearing to determine whether an inmate should be allowed release from prison. Unless the inmate has been incarcerated for 20 years or longer, they cannot appear at their parole hearing.
The inmate is allowed legal representation at the parole hearing.
Elements of the hearing include:
- A written description of the offense
- A recap of the inmate’s achievements and behavior while incarcerated
- The inmate’s plans for their future outside of prison
- A determination of the likelihood that the inmate will commit new offenses
The victims, victims’ next of kin, and immediate family may attend the hearing or designate someone to be their representative to speak on their behalf. Support persons are not permitted at the hearing.
The nature of the original offense determines eligibility for parole.
7. What Are the Penalties for Violating Parole?
When an inmate is granted parole, there are many rules and stipulations placed upon the individual. These rules and stipulations must be followed carefully, and failure to adhere to the required policy may result in a parole violation. Being charged with another crime while on parole release may also warrant a parole violation. When parole is violated, a blue warrant may be issued, causing parole revocation, sending the person back to prison to serve a portion or the remainder of their original sentence, in addition to any time given for a new criminal conviction.
8. What is a Parole Packet?
A parole packet is a package of information collected and presented to the parole board in favor of parole for an inmate. An inmate’s attorney or family usually creates this package before the parole hearing date. The parole packet is a beneficial step toward a successful parole hearing, although it is not required.
9. What Happens If Parole is Denied?
To be rather blunt, denial of parole can make future eligibility for parole extremely difficult. The inmate’s case may not be heard again by the Board for one, three, or five years depending on the original offense.
The Board is not required to provide details for the refusal. It is required to set a date for future parole review eligibility or specify that no future review will be granted. Denial appeals are granted under limited circumstances.
10. How Can an Attorney Help?
Hiring an attorney to represent the inmate increases the chances of being granted parole. An attorney helps prepare your parole packet and gives the Board a more rounded picture of you as a human being, providing context for your actions.
A skilled attorney emphasizes your network of family and friends who are available to help you stay straight. The attorney can also demonstrate your plans for the future after prison.
Your lawyer helps discover inappropriate or incorrectly planned conditions for your parole, like requiring a drug treatment program when you were not convicted of a drug-related offense or requiring registration as a sex offender when you were not convicted of a sex crime.
You are not required to use the same lawyer who represented you in court during your trial or sentencing hearing. You can select an attorney who specializes in parole proceedings who has a track record of success, like Greg Tsioros.