How to Get the Best Chance at Release on Parole in Texas
Parole Review can be difficult to understand because the Pardons and Parole Board has wide discretion to release or hold an inmate. The reasons for granting or denying release can be a mystery. However, there are a few ways to demystify the process when you or a loved one comes up for parole.
The Parole Review Process
You may have an idea about how the parole process goes from movies like Shawshank Redemption, with the inmate taking a seat in front of the parole board. The truth is that it’s now less formal than that. The parole review process takes place over the course of a few months, with most everything happening with written documents. There’s not usually a formal hearing. Thew closest an inmate will get to that is usually in the form of a telephone interview with an attorney and/or close family member. The Parole panel is not even required to go that far, but in some cases they are required to get a statement from the victim.
The Parole Packet
Typically, the best way you can help a loved one who is on parole is by contributing to the parole packet. This is a collection of documents and support letters that show that an inmate is rehabilitated and that he or she has a solid support system when released. The letters should focus mostly on his support system and his release plan. Upon release, does the inmate have a place to stay? Potential employment? Transportation? In some cases, it can be helpful to have treatment lined up for substance abuse or other mental health issues.
The Parole packet should focus on concise, well-written letters, rather than trying to overwhelm the board with a huge volume of letters. Beyond 3-4 letters, there is a diminishing return, and you won’t be certain that the Board has read the letters at all. Instead, the family should focus on creating 3-4 well-written letters, supported by evidence if possible.
The 3-person Parole panel makes its decision on specific factors. These factors can be found on the Pardons and Parole website, and they are as follows:
• Seriousness of the offense(s);
• Letters of support and/or protest;
• Sentence length, amount of time served;
• Criminal history, other arrest(s), probation, parole;
• Number of prison incarcerations;
• Juvenile history;
• Institutional adjustment (participation in specialized programs); and
• Offender age.
The Board should make their decision on the above factors only. The seriousness of an offense is rated L for Low, M for medium, H for High, and H+ for the most serious of offenses. Criminal history will be examined and will look back into the juvenile history if applicable. Amount of time served is a factor as well – the higher percentage of a sentence served, the more likely an inmate will be released on parole.
A Board’s decision will not simply be yes or no. The Board can decide to release when eligible, release after a certain date, or release when certain conditions are met. A common condition is the completion of a treatment program. Safe-P, for example, is often required for Felony DWIs. Safe-P is a 6-12 month program that is administered in custody, so a release date with Safe-P requirement can be bittersweet. In addition to the 6-12 months, an inmate may spend time waiting for a spot to open up in a Safe-P facility.
If the decision is a “No”, there are several options also. The Board could decide no release and set the next review for one year. For 3G offenses, the next review could be up to 5 years away. They can also return with a recommendation for SA, which means an inmate will “serve all” of his or her sentence. If the Board returns with SA, the inmate will still get a review at his projected release date, when eligible for mandatory discretionary supervision.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
This question gets asked a lot, and the answer is dependent on each person’s unique situation. It is not lost on me that legal representation is expensive. Additionally, no attorney can guarantee a release on parole. However, TDCJ releases statistics that show that inmates who hire an attorney are released at a higher frequency than those who don’t. It’s impossible to say whether this is correlation or causation. For some people, the additional chance of release is worth the cost. How can you place a dollar value on months or years of your life that you cannot get back?
If you do hire an attorney, the bast time is when an inmate first is eligible for parole. The attorney can help with the parole packet that will stay in the inmate’s file for subsequent reviews in the case that the inmate is denied. If you do hire an attorney, it’s important to keep your expectations in the right place. An attorney can make a difference in some cases, but in others, there is little or no chance of release with or without an attorney.
ATX Legal handles parole hearings across the state of Texas. If a loved one has received a letter informing him or her that she is up for parole, you can contact us for a consultation at no charge.