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The History of Parole

Parole Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

The History of Parole

Parole is a form of community supervision used in the U.S. and Texas state corrections system:

  • Parole is the supervision of the individual released from prison.

Parole is derived from the French word, parol, and means word of honor. The word recalls prisoners of war who promised not to fight in a current conflict if the captor released them.

It’s unclear how the original idea now applies to an early release of offenders. The first official use of the concept of “early release from prison” in the country is credited to Samuel G. Howe in Boston during the 19th century. Before that, programs involving pardons were used to achieve similar outcomes. Indeed, parole was considered a “conditional pardon” until 1938 in some states.

This article provides a short history of parole in the United States and the state of Texas.

Is someone you know eligible for parole in Texas?
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Parole in the United States

Parole controls in the U.S. are intended to encompass incarceration and provide the necessary tools to protect members of the community into which the offender is conditionally released:

  • The offender receives a formal and written number of supervisory conditions. A supervision officer is assigned to monitor the offender’s behavior and social progress in the community.
  • An offender must avoid committing new crimes on parole. Violation of the offender’s supervision conditions may result in his or her return to jail or prison.

United States History of Parole

In 1907, New York was first to implement a parole system:

  • In 1942, all states in that nation as well as the federal government used parole systems.
  • Thereafter, release via parole increased and reached a national high in 1977. At that time, approximately 72 percent of offenders were released on parole.
  • Parole trends caught national attention as several paroled felons committed high-profile offenses. Citizens asked questions about parole’s effectiveness to rehabilitate offenders and to protect society.

Opponents of parole argued that sentencing of offenders gave too much power to the judiciary branch’s sentencing judges and appointed parole boards in the executive branch. They argued that the current system undercut the legislative branch charged with enforcing the law:

  • To address this issue, states started to pass more determinate sentencing statutes to curtail discretion of the judiciary and to establish required, fixed sentences for specific crimes.
  • In addition, some of the states reduced parole boards’ power and set objective criteria in place, e.g. point systems used in granting early releases from prison.
  • Simultaneously, parole officers’ roles in some states shifted from social worker to enforcement agent.

The United States Congress was dismayed about the federal paroles system by the 1980s:

  • Democrats expressed concerns about racial bias in board decisions.
  • Republicans believed that parole was granted too often.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 removed the possibility of parole in federal institutions. Instead, federal prisons implemented the point system in which those prisons meeting disciplinary standards and specific educational goals earn good time and opportunities to reduce their prison sentences.

Dual trends towards truth in sentencing and standardizations of parole release gave way to post-release supervision of parolees.

More prisoners today serve determinate, fixed sentences to be followed by a monitoring period in the community. Importantly, this fact obscures the differences in state policies. For instance, California had almost 120,000 parolees in the same year that Maine released 31 parolees.

History of Parole in Texas

The first laws concerning parole were enacted by Texas’ Legislature in the early 20th century. The law empowered the Texas Board of Prison Commissions as well as the Board of Pardons’ Advisors (with the governor’s authorization) to make regulations and rules needed to release certain prisoners and protect members of the community:

  • In 1905, Texas prisoners who served a minimum of two years or 25 percent of their incarceration terms were parole-eligible if the offender 1) was a first-time offender and 2) hadn’t been convicted of certain offenses.
  • In 1911, the Texas Legislature passed laws that enabled the Board of Prison Commissions by itself to make regulations and rules (with the governor’s authorization) regarding parole of prisoners. The law stated that prisoners with good behavior might be parole-eligible after serving the minimum term for the crime/conviction. In addition, a supervisor or parole agent was to be in place to inform the state concerning parolees’ conduct in society. Note: The supervision system did not exist when this legislation was passed.
  • In 1913, the Texas governor was provided with the singular power to grant parole of prisoners. Although the Board of Prison Commissioners continued to establish regulations and rules by which prisoners might be paroled, the governor was required to approve them.
  • In 1929, the Texas Board of Pardons Advisors was revamped by the state legislature. An additional third member was added to create the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Pardons and Paroles were empowered to recommend certain prisoners for parole to the state governor and to provide advice regarding matters of clemency. At that time, parole 1) applied to individuals who hadn’t been convicted of any offense punishable by incarceration in a state penitentiary.
  • In 1930, the prior restriction was removed. Only inmates who had previously served time in prison were not eligible for parole in Texas.
  • In 1936, an amendment to the state constitution gave authority to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend certain paroles. The Texas governor had the right to make any act of clemency. The governor also had the power to grant a 30-day reprieve of capital punishment without input from Pardons and Paroles. The governor had the singular authority to revoke paroles and/or conditional pardons. This amendment is often considered as the birth of the Texas parole system.
Early Texas parole system

At this time, parole was available only if Pardons and Paroles opined that the prisoner was compatible with the society’s welfare. It was authorized:

  • To make terms and conditions of parole and to provide the parolee with a formal written copy of these T&Cs

Common T&Cs included:

  • The parolee wasn’t required to secure employment to be paroled. Importantly, though, if the parolee was offered a job, he was required to accept it.
  • The parolee couldn’t leave Texas without obtaining prior consent from Pardons and Paroles.
  • The state required the parolee to provide for any dependents, “abandon evil associates and ways,” and make restitution for the crime.
  • After release from the penitentiary, the parolee was provided with a suit of clothes, underwear, five dollars, and a one-way rail pass to the place of the conviction.

Parole officers weren’t a part of the Texas justice system yet. However, a supervisor of the parolee was identified. He maintained records for the state about parolees and was required to report to the governor if 1) the parolee returned to criminal ways or 2) violated any T&Cs of parole.

Returning the parolee to prison

At that point, the governor could decide to issue a warrant and to retake the parolee:

  • When the offender was returned to prison, Pardons and Paroles held a hearing to review the parole violations.
  • If it determined the parolee violated the T&Cs of parole, he was required to serve the remainder of the maximum sentence from the date of delinquency.
  • Time on parole was considered time served on the sentence until the revocation of parole.
  • Violators who committed new offenses on parole were required to serve any time remaining on the original sentence before they began serving the new sentence.
Voluntary parole boards
  • In 1937, the Texas governor wanted to form voluntary parole boards consisting of those people charged with supervising parolees without payment from the state.
  • Before this date, rigorous supervision of parolees wasn’t possible. The law allowed for a single supervisor of parolees. Two hundred forty-two counties out of 254 in the state of Texas selected voluntary parole supervisors. These individuals helped parolees to obtain employment and reported on their progress and behavior.
  • In 1947, the 50th Legislature enacted the Adult Probation & Parole Law. It created the necessary framework for today’s parole operations in Texas. Before passage of the law, parolees released from prison were the beneficiaries of executive clemency and were considered “executive paroles” or “conditional pardons.”
  • Volunteer parole boards continued to supervise individuals pardoned or paroled. No new funds were committed for the operation.

Consult Texas parole attorney Greg Tsioros to discuss your case »

Texas parole changes through the years

Texas’ parole system has changed over the years, culminating in the current Board of Pardons and Paroles with seven board members and 14 state commissioners.

Before September 1, 1989, the Board was responsible for parole supervision system operations as well as parole decisions.

The Texas Legislature merged the Texas Department of Corrections, the Texas Adult Probation Commission, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) that year. Although the Board kept its authority to make parole decisions, the Parole Division of the TDCJ took up some parole-related responsibilities.

Today, the Director of the Parole Division is appointed by TDCJ’s Executive Director. He or she is responsible for operations and administration of the division.

Parole Supervisions Systems Today

Millions of people are supervised under U.S. criminal justice systems. About a third of these individuals are incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions.

About 70 percent of these supervised individuals are supervised by the parole system. Historically, about two percent of the country’s populace (324 million people) is supervised by federal or state parole boards. This means that state and federal parole boards supervise approximately 6.5 million people.

Contact an Experienced Parole Lawyer in Texas

The history of parole in the United States and Texas shows the importance of your behavior and willingness to obey national and state laws. You have legal rights under the U.S. Constitution and the state of Texas. An experienced parole attorney at your side will protect them.

If you or someone you care about is facing a criminal charge, is parole-eligible, or the subject of alleged parole violations, it’s important to contact a criminal defense lawyer with Texas parole experience. An attorney with the combination of these critical skills may affect the outcome of your case.

Contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros in Houston to schedule an initial case review now at 832-752-5972.

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