What Is Life Without Parole in Texas?
- January 31, 2018
- Parole, Parole Review & Application
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
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Texas was the last of the so-called “death penalty” states to pass “Life without Parole” (LWOP) as an option for some offenders. Texas is currently one of 31 states that offer the LWOP option.
Many people are opposed to LWOP on moral grounds. Others welcome it because it provides one of the strictest forms of punishment for serious offenders other than lethal injection.
Some judges express concerns that LWOP has become too common in Texas. Some people who would’ve otherwise been given a life sentence will never become parole-eligible. These offenders typically miss the opportunity to leave prison.
Although LWOP has resulted in fewer offenders sentenced to the death penalty, it also means that 50-80 inmates sentenced to LWOP might’ve had a chance to get parole one day.
What is the Origin of Life without Parole in Texas?
LWOP is available for a specific narrow set of offenses in Texas:
- It’s most commonly used in capital murder cases as well as severe instances of repeated sexual abuse.
- Many indictments for capital murder still result in the offender making a plea agreement that includes a long prison sentence.
- Many Texas prosecutors rarely deal with scenarios in which LWOP may be a possibility.
In 2011, approximately 100 offenders were sentenced with LWOP. The average number of LWOP sentences remains at that level.
In other words, 100 Texas learn they must remain in prison until they die.
What is Life without Parole Like Today?
Less than 900 people are currently serving LWOP sentences in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice:
- More than 200 inmates are in their 20s
- More than 300 are in their 30s
- About 67 percent of inmates receiving LWOP are relatively young
LWOP ensures that a death penalty candidate’s freedom is permanently taken away. The positive effect of LWOP is that fewer offenders are sentenced to death:
- Just four cases across Texas sought the death penalty in 2016
- That year, LWOP was selected as the sentencing option in three out of four cases
Clearly, LWOP is often substituted instead of a “regular” life sentence.
At this time, an offender convicted of a capital murder charge receiving a life sentence may have a chance of parole in approximately 40 years into the sentence. That is, in a case in which the jury or judge isn’t inclined to issue the death penalty but the defendant receives LWOP, he or she is stripped of the hope that one day—even in the offender’s 60s or 70s—he or she will breathe the air of freedom once more.
Texas LWOP population
In contrast to offenders on death row, offenders serving LWOP aren’t housed in one place. They’re living in a variety of places within the Texas prison system.
Of the almost 900 people in the LWOP population:
- More than 800 are male
- Less than 70 are female
- About 40.5 percent are Black
- About 31 percent are Hispanic
- About 27 percent are Caucasian
- Less than 0.01 percent are Asian
- Less than 0.001 percent are Native American
Most of Texas’ LWOP population was convicted of a capital murder charge. Some were convicted of a serious sexual abuse charge.
No potential for rehabilitation?
Some LWOP advocates believe that it’s justified because the offender has “no potential” for successful rehabilitation.
However, psychologists and sociologists say that many people change over time. They learn from difficult mistakes.
It’s probable that some offenders serving LWOP didn’t deserve this sentencing option.
If you or someone you love is facing a serious crime that could result in a long prison sentence, life in prison, or the death penalty, it’s essential to do everything possible before the sentence is handed down.
Freedom is precious. If you or someone you care about is facing a serious criminal charge in Texas, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who will protect your rights now.
LWOP: Strict Supervision for Life
The life without parole offender faces a future of tight supervision.
After being sentenced to LWOP, the offender won’t become eligible for a less restrictive custody arrangement. He or she remains at G3 level, which restricts where the offender is housed and the jobs they may perform in prison. The LWOP offender:
- Is assigned to the main building of the prison in which he or she is housed
- Isn’t assigned to a job in which he or she may access other areas of the unit
G3 custody level is typically used for an offender serving a prison sentence of 50-plus years. (Note: G4 custody status is assigned to those offenders recognized as consistent “rule violators.” G5 custody status is typically used to manage an inmate with a history of assault against fellow inmates.)
At this time, 36 Texas units house more than 4,000 offenders assigned to a G3 custody level.
In contrast to G3 inmates who may at some point be eligible to a less-restrictive supervision, the LWOP offender never will:
- The Texas Criminal Justice System determined G3 is the “entry level” custody status for an offender sentenced to LWOP. In other words, G3 is the best custody status that he or she can hope for.
- In the past, a jury might sentence the offender convicted or capital murder to death or life in prison requiring him or her to serve at least 40 years of the sentence before parole consideration.
What is Life in Prison without Parole in Texas?
LWOP inmates carry a heavier burden than most.
Original advocates of LWOP in Texas argued that it guaranteed the offender’s ability to endanger members of the public. However, those against LWOP debated that the offender facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole would attempt to escape or kill fellow prisoners or guards. The bottom-line:
- The LWOP offender has no ability to gain credits for good time served. Texas law restricts the parole board’s authority to even consider early release or parole in LWOP cases.
- According to a New York Times survey, approximately 10 percent of inmates must serve life sentences. The number of inmates serving a life sentence continues to increase. In the Times survey, at least 20 percent of inmates have no opportunity to become parole-eligible.
Juvenile Life in Prison without Parole
Our country is the only nation on earth that agrees to sentence young people to life in prison without the possibility of parole for offenses committed before these individuals celebrate their 18th birthdays.
At this time, 20 states plus the District of Columbia ban giving juveniles from receiving life sentence without the possibility of parole. In some states, lawmakers argue that a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender is unconstitutional.
The adolescent brain differs from that of the adult. The Supreme Court held that the country’s evolving sense of decency warrants that giving a juvenile offender the death penalty is both “cruel and unusual.”
Although Texas legislators banned mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide in 2009, 12 Texas inmates serving such a sentence were deemed unconstitutional. These inmates were not yet 18 years of age when their crimes were committed:
- Three of the dozen inmates convicted of capital murder have requested resentencing.
- Nine of the offenders have not.
Texas lawmakers passed legislation that bans LWOP for an offender age 16 or less. In 2013, lawmakers banned LWOP for offenders age 17 or younger.
The law now requires that the juvenile serving a life sentence have the opportunity for parole after serving at least 40 years in prison. Advocates of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition say that the juvenile should be provided an earlier shot at freedom.
Costly Life Sentences
Racial disparity is rampant in juvenile life without the opportunity (JLWOP) for parole sentences:
- About 23 percent of juvenile arrests include African Americans suspected or murdering a Caucasian individual.
- More than 42 percent of JLWOP sentences involve convicted African Americans.
- Caucasian juveniles accused of killing African Americans are less likely (less than four percent) to receive a JLWOP sentence compared to proportionate arrests involving the murder of African Americans (more than six percent).
Life sentences for juvenile offenders are financially expensive as well:
- Housing the juvenile offender costs the state more than $34,000 per year.
- The cost of housing an inmate 50 and older is approximately $68,000 per year.
- The total cost of housing a young offender for 50 years or more is about $2.25 million.
Although current momentum for reform concerning the elimination of JLWOP exists today, significant hurdles remain.
Contact an Experienced Texas Parole Attorney
If you or someone you love is facing a serious criminal charge, you need an experienced criminal defenseattorney at your side. When you consider that most criminal defense lawyers in Texas don’t focus on parole eligibility, it’s all the more crucial to engage an experienced Texas parole lawyer from the start.
Contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros in Houston at 832-762-5972 for an initial case evaluation.