Inmates and families often ask me how to make parole in Texas. Obviously, the sooner the better. In other words, what’s the magic formula for making parole?
Unfortunately, parole law and the process used by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles cannot easily be translated into an easy sound bite. However, I believe the question is still important, and worthy of careful analysis. Frankly, it should be something considered by every single inmate who is sincerely trying to better understand how the path to parole might look.
Rather than attempt a magic formula, I believe the question is still worth a blog post wherein I try to discuss it, without regard to any specific inmate’s situation. Although this is a general set of observations and opinions from a parole lawyer in Texas who still learns something new every single day, I do feel comfortable discussing all of this with some degree of confidence, mainly because my opinions are based on my observations and daily experiences over the past 7+ years.
The first place most people will look in almost any parole review is the “instant offense” or “instant offenses” as the case may be. In other words, what crimes is he imprisoned for? By the way, I use “he” or “him” simply because 93% of TDCJ inmates are men. I certainly do not mind using “she” or “her”, but using the male pronouns seems more logical.
Sometimes, the person is sent to prison for a new crime or a series of crimes, and the person was already on parole for one or more past crimes. This means, in most cases, that the prior crimes will also be subject to some level of scrutiny by the Parole Board Member or Commissioner looking at the file. It can get complicated when there are several crimes under consideration simultaneously.
Aside from the above situation of coming back to prison and having to finish a prior sentence, a much higher percentage of inmates may be serving time for one or more crimes, and there are still other crimes that have occurred in the past. These past crimes, whether misdemeanor or felony, are part of an inmate’s file at the Board. Even charges that were dropped and never resulted in a conviction are contained in the Board’s file. If it’s in there, and they look, it still could have a real effect on the decision making process.
Important Facts Relating To The Offense(s)
You would think that the paragraph labeled “Offense(s)” would necessarily include this topic. However, it really is true that the titles of the various crimes often seem to carry much more weight than the actual facts surrounding the crime. I say this for two very simple reasons. First, the time and effort required to try to properly understand the facts of any specific crime would require a voter to spend more time on each case than is generally possible, especially given the time constraints faced by voters at the Board. Second, the Parole Guidelines are based on a formula that is supposedly based on academic research, and the formula does not have a way of making the guideline score change by virtue of specific facts. In other words, when they plug in their number for the offense severity rating of a specific crime, the number is the same for every person with that same offense title, notwithstanding the infinite variety of possible circumstances surrounding any particular criminal offense.
Younger people, on average, commit more crimes than older people, and younger parolees come back to prison more often than older parolees. Finally, younger inmates get into more trouble while in prison. Given all of these facts, age matters. There are a bunch of reasons that can be found in scientific and sociology texts, but suffice it to say that younger people present more risk for the parole officials. However, even though age can hurt a person’s chances in some circumstances, it can help in others. If the crime occurred at a relatively young age, and that inmate is now 10 or 15 years older, a lot of maturity and wisdom might exist that was absent in younger years. Also, and this is just my own theory, but I think people over 35 or 40 usually appreciate that life truly is short and loathe the idea of spending any of their precious life in prison. Whereas, some young folks take the idea of prison as a mere inconvenience or hassle that must be dealt with. Thus, whatever limited time we are fortunate to enjoy on this Earth, the older people realize that the clock is ticking.
Drugs & Alcohol
I have often said that if you took drugs and alcohol out of the picture, as much as 70% of the people in prison would not be in prison. I have no science to back me up, but I’m sure it’s been studied and researched. These substances are, however, a double edged sword. On the one hand, the drugs or alcohol do offer a plausible explanation (or at least a partial explanation) for why something stupid and senseless occurred. However, it is widely known that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is a huge factor in recidivism. Recidivism usually means parole revocation.
Therefore, while drugs and/or alcohol use or abuse issues might sometimes help to improve one’s chances for parole because such behavior explains why an otherwise good person would make poor choices that landed him in hot water, the same issue may well make the parolee far more likely to end up back in prison later. The facts of the drug or alcohol problem are relevant, and need to be discussed and addressed in most cases.
Conduct While In Prison
I have always believed this factor deserves more consideration, but it does receive some attention, particularly in an otherwise close case. In other words, the Board can look to the “institutional adjustment” and see whether the guy was good at following the many rules in prison and if he managed to stay out of trouble. It is also worth looking at whether the inmate took it upon himself to learn a trade, obtained any formal education, or somehow expanded his mind through his own initiative and hard work.
Life Before Prison
Although the aforementioned criminal record is high on the list of things looked into by the Board, many people have done some really commendable and special things in life before coming to prison. It would be a mistake to assume that such things would be immaterial to the parole voters. Nearly every person has done some good in life, and the Board will look at those things, if properly brought to their attention.
The Plan for After Prison
Everyone says they are never coming back to prison, and yet somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% are back in prison within five years of leaving. Therefore, a quality individual plan using sound logic and containing specific details can enhance the opportunity to go home on parole. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this factor will supplant any of the prior factors in the eyes of the voters.
In summary, there is no magic answer to the question of how a person can make parole. The law, the crime title, the crime facts, life before prison, life in prison, and the plan for after prison, and many other possible issues can each be important to the voters at the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. In the cases I handle, the search for the answers to all of these questions begins with an interview process that eventually culminates in a presentation to Board officials who, it is hoped, will become much more informed about who my client really is, what he really did and did not do wrong, and anything else that I believe might bear on their decision.