Parole Packets can be a very important part of an offender’s parole file. To date, I estimate that I have submitted approximately one thousand parole packets to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles over the past 8 years. Fortunately, I enjoy the process of building my clients’ packets, and each and every one is different. I use my packets to reinforce the information and key points I want to stress to the Board when I get the valuable opportunity to advocate and discuss my clients with the voters at the Board. This blog post will give my opinion about the points you may want to consider when doing your own parole packet.
As a preliminary matter, it is essential to note that The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has to make parole and mandatory supervision determinations nearly one hundred thousand (100,000) times each year. Most file decisions require a majority of the three voters (SB 45 cases require even more votes). Even if we were to assume there are no split votes (and there are), this means that approximately two hundred thousand individual decisions must be rendered by approximately 20 people, every year. That works out to approximately 10,000 votes per voter annually, at a minimum.
Now, let’s assume that the voters each work approximately 50 work weeks per year. I would guess it may be slightly less, given occasional position vacancies, vacations, medical or family emergencies, etc. Then, assume that each voter has some administrative duties, occasional travel requirements, and non-productive work time. Hey, we all have our moments where we ask a co-worker how their sick family member is doing, check messages on our phones or email accounts, discuss the latest on the Cowboys, Spurs, or some other such matter. I think it is safe to assume the voters have about 30 hours of actual file review work performed each week, and 50 weeks per year, as I indicated, is probably being generous. So, here’s the reality, as much as people wish it wasn’t true…
Each voter has to make at least 10,000 voting decisions each year, and only realistically has about 1,500 hours to make all these decisions, including the time it takes to enter the voting decision, and the official reason(s), into the computer system. That means, at most, each voting decision allows just nine minutes for the voter to consider everything, make a decision, and document the decision. It is not an exaggeration to assume that only 5 minutes, on average, can be allocated to reading what outside sources have contributed to the Board’s file. Thousands and thousands of people have their hopes and dreams hanging in the balance, and those hopes and dreams are in the hands of people with precious little time to come to a decision about what to do.
I explained all of the above not to depress or anger anybody, although those are both normal reactions to the reality of the situation. Instead, I have provided the above information to provide context and emphasize the importance of the advice provided in this blog post.
If you are going to forgo legal representation and do a packet on behalf of a loved one, please understand some of the realities…
1. Your packet may not even be read. For example, if a person just picked up 2 major cases for fighting or assaulting a correction officer, and parole was already a longshot, do you really think the voter will spend 20 minutes reading what you have to say?
2. Type the packet. If you want your packet to be read, make sure it’s typed, with the possible exception of neatly written support letters, although these should usually be typed also, in my opinion.
3. Limit the number of support letters. Given the above discussion, this may seem obvious, but I believe it’s pretty much pointless to put 20 or 30 support letters in a parole packet. Less is more. I rarely see a need to put more than five support letters in a packet.
4. Stay organized! The reader needs to know how you’ve organized everything you want them to read or see. This is one of the biggest mistakes I typically see when I see packets submitted by inmates and their families.
5. Stay on point. We all tend to ramble at times. However, if you ramble when you write, you risk losing the interest of a reader who has precious little time to waste.
6. Educate The Board. Tell the Board relevant stuff it may not know. The definition of “relevant” is different for everyone, but you need to at least understand that what is important to the Board is often different than what is important to the inmate or his family.
7. Include quality pictures. They say a picture tells a thousand words. I agree. Choose wisely, so as not to overdo it in the photo department. Just like support letters, I rarely see the point of putting 20 or 30 pictures in a packet. However, I believe it is usually a mistake not to include some pictures. Good judgment is key here.
8. Inmate Letters are important. The Board will likely want to see how the inmate expresses himself and what he wants the Board to know. Here again, less is more. It is usually foolish for an offender to write a 7 page hand written letter that is poorly organized.
The focus needs to be on quality, not necessarily quantity. A well written, well organized, and informative packet is needed if one expects the Board to take the time to carefully look through it and take away anything of value from it.
I hope this blog post is helpful to anyone who is thinking about putting a parole packet together. Obviously, my legal representation is so much more than a parole packet, and this blog is not meant to be legal advice in anyone’s particular situation. Nonetheless, a parole packet is generally part of the process, and everyone, not just those who have an attorney, ought to understand how a quality packet may help an inmate, as opposed to one that will have no effect, or may even hurt one’s chances to make it home.