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Parole Eligibility in Texas

Parole Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Parole Eligibility in Texas

Important parole information from our January newsletter:

My office receives numerous telephone calls from the loved ones of inmates in Texas prisons requesting my assistance. Too often, I must refuse representation of the inmate because of misunderstanding of the term parole eligibility. Repeatedly, I am contacted too late to be able to assist the inmate.  During the course of representing an inmate I must conduct an investigation, gather evidence, review the evidence and prepare a parole package that might be as large as 30-40 pages which has to be filed in a timely manner as required by the Board.  I also must also prepare a compelling argument to present to the Board.  Most people who go to the TDCJ-ID Website and look up an inmate see a date indicating parole eligibility and believe it is a hearing date. This is wrong! Parole eligibility means any time after this date the inmate can be released from prison if the Parole Board receives sufficient evidence to be convinced the inmate deserves to be released and is no longer a threat to society.

Under Texas Parole Board rules and policy, the Parole Board may receive an inmate’s file as early as 60-days before the parole eligibility date and upon receiving the file will review any evidence contained in the file and then determine if the inmate should remain incarcerated or be released. Board rules allow all inmates being considered for parole to be interviewed by parole officials approximately six (6) months before the parole eligibility date for a first review and four (4) months before additional next review dates. The Board rules require that the parole package MUST be filed on or before the 60-day voting window or else they do not even have to look at the package; therefore, I must be hired several months before that so I can have the needed time to perform the needed work, gather the information and documents needed to prepare a substantial package and submit it on time as required by the Board. Time is limited and there is no time to waste.  The more time I have to work on a file, the better.  Do not wait.

It is my advice not to retain an attorney who will accept representing an inmate before the Parole Board who does not have sufficient time to investigate, evaluate, prepare a substantial parole package and prepare a compelling argument for the Parole Board. There are attorneys who have a form and all they do is remove the name of their last client from the form and insert their new client’s name into the form.  It has been my experience this type of representation does not change a Parole Board Member’s mind about an inmate. If the inmate is released after such a form is submitted, that inmate would probably have been released anyway.  Under Texas law, the burden is upon the inmate to find the evidence, produce the evidence, and convince the Parole Board to grant an inmate parole from prison. If there is no evidence in the file showing the inmate has changed, has confronted whatever has caused him/her to commit crimes, and convince the Parole Board the inmate is no longer a threat to society (a threat to society can be further theft cases for example, it does not necessarily have to be any type of violent crime) then the Parole Board must deny the inmate release from prison. Should the Parole Board decide not to release an inmate to parole they then determine when they would be willing to review the inmate again. While most cases have a one-year set-off before they are reviewed again by the Parole Board, there are other cases that receive a 5 or 10-year set-off, depending on the crime. It is my advice to contact a good attorney at least a minimum of 8-9 months before the next parole eligibility date.

Contrary, to most inmate’s beliefs, the present Parole Board is probably the most enlightened group of individuals I have dealt with in the 30-years I have been working as a parole attorney.  I have found every Parole Board Member is willing to consider releasing someone to parole when they are given evidence they can believe in, a plan that they believe will work, and have faith in the inmate not committing new crimes. The problem lies in putting the information together in such a way that the Parole Board feels comfortable releasing someone. If the Parole Board has any doubt the individual will go back to committing crimes, then they will place them into the 66 2/3% category who are not released to parole.  It is the inmate’s problem and burden to come up with the evidence to present to the Parole Board that will convince them to release the inmate to parole.  If the inmate does not do that, then he/she can expect to be denied parole and receive a set-off.  Not too many years ago, California and Texas were in a contest to see how many people could be sent to prison.  I believe at one time the prison population in the state of Texas reached almost 170,000 inmates but now the prison population is approximately 150,000 to 155,000. The present release rate of 33 1/3% is much better than the 14% release rate I dealt with some 30-years ago.

RUMORS:

(1)  There is a certain segment of the inmate population that must believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. I have consistently explained there has not been a change in the law regarding 3g offenses or those other offenses that are not listed under 3g, but require one-half of the sentence to be served day for day.  If you are charged with one of these offenses you must serve one-half of your sentence, day for day, before you are eligible for parole. There has not been a change in this law by the Texas Legislature either in the last legislature session in 2017 or any other legislative session. The fact the Texas Legislature continues to designate crimes that require an inmate to serve at least one-half of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole, indicates they are not interested in reducing parole eligibility requirements for inmates. If you look at the Texas Legislature you can understand why there is very little possibility of any reduction in parole eligibility. The Governor of the state of Texas is a Republican, the Lieutenant Governor is a Republican, the majority of both the House and Senate are Republicans.  Republicans do not have a reputation of being interested in helping people who have been convicted of a crime. So, when you hear one of these inmates tell you the Release Fairy has informed them of some change in the legislature that benefits the inmate you should be extremely skeptical.

(2)  There is a persistent rumor, again the Release Fairy has told someone, the prisons are overcrowded, and the Parole Board must release inmates.  The prisons are not overcrowded. There are empty beds and TDCJ is in the process of closing 3 prisons. The parole release rate has not varied very much in the last 6-years. Presently, the Parole Board is releasing approximately 33 1/3% of the inmates who apply for parole and 40% of the inmates who are up for Discretionary Mandatory Review. While the release rate has come a long way from the 14% release rate I had to deal with when I 1st became active in representing inmates before the Parole Board some 30-years ago, it still is not great.

There have been some changes in Board Members and Commissioners and some units have been placed under different Boards.  For your reference, please find attached a chart of the current Parole Board Members and Commissioners, the Boards they are assigned to and the units assigned to the Boards.

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