The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles exercises complete discretion to make whatever parole decisions it deems appropriate. However, from 1985 to the present, the Board has been legally required to employ some sort of method or system to ensure that the overall result of the Board’s voting process corresponds to some rational methodology. The Parole Guideline scoring system is the system used in Texas. It is widely used, but poorly understood by people outside of the parole community.
One broad legal mandate in the parole process is to more readily grant parole to the prisoners who represent the lowest risk to society. Conversely, the Board is also legally required to make parole less likely in the case of those prisoners who are said to represent the greatest risk to public safety. The purpose of this blog post is to provide the reader with a better understanding of the current Texas Parole Guidelines and discuss the relative importance of the guidelines in the voting process.
What Is A Parole Guideline Score?
The voters at the Parole Board look at a number called “The Parole Guideline Score” during every person’s parole review. The Parole Guideline Score is a number from 1 to 7, and every TDCJ offender has been assigned a specific guideline score. The guideline score of a given inmate does not easily change, but over time it can change a little bit.
Under the Texas Parole Guidelines, a score of 1 is the lowest, and such a score is supposed to represent a very poor prospect for being successful on parole. Such a person supposedly represents a significant statistical risk to public safety. A score of 7 supposedly represents the person who is most likely to succeed on parole and stay free of any future criminal behavior.
The Guideline as a Guide
The Board cautions that the Parole Guideline Score is exactly as its name implies, a guideline. The individuals at the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles who are entrusted to vote cases are free to vote however they want, and the guideline score may play a minor role, a major role, or, in unusual situations, it may play almost no role at all in the voting decision of any particular case. For some unknown reason, however, the Board will not reveal any given TDCJ Offender’s parole guideline score to people outside of the Board. Offenders and their attorneys aren’t even informed as to what the Board has calculated their score to be. This has always seemed odd and troubling to me. Fortunately, with some work and a solid understanding of the components of the score, one can still determine an offender’s guideline score, even without the Board’s cooperation. It would be nice, however, to know the score that is being used at the Board in a given case, just in case a mistake has occurred and an offender or his attorney can identify when he has been given an incorrect guideline score.
The Components of a Guideline Score
The Parole Guideline Score for TDCJ offenders is calculated using a formula that supposedly includes all of the major factors needed to adequately assess risk.
There are two components to the formula:
1. The offense severity rating, and
2. The risk assessment instrument
The Offense Severity Rating
The offense severity rating (OSR) is the more simple of the two components. Each and every one of the 2500+ felonies classified under Texas law has been assigned a single OSR. The OSR can only be one of four possible values for male offenders, and only one of three possible values for female offenders. For males, the worst possible OSR is “Highest”, followed by “High”, followed by “Medium”, with the last OSR labeled as “Low”. In all cases of persons incarcerated for more than one instant offense, the OSR used in their calculation is the one corresponding to the most severe offense of the instant offenses.
The Risk Assessment Instrument
The OSR is combined on a two dimensional chart with a number called the Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI).
The RAI is derived by combining specific data from the correct answers for two specific sets of questions. These two groups are known as static factors and dynamic factors. We take the static factors and the dynamic factors and follow a simple formula in order to derive the RAI.
Static factors include:
- Age at first admission to a juvenile or adult correctional facility,
- A history of one or more supervisory release revocations for felony offenses
- Prior incarcerations
- Employment history
- The commitment offense(most severe if more than one)
The static factors are the ones that, unfortunately, you cannot do anything to change. These are, for the most part, where your past catches up with you.
Dynamic Factors Include:
- The current age of the offender
- Whether the offender is a confirmed member of a security threat group
- Education, vocational, and recognized OJT programs completed during present incarceration period
- Prison Disciplinary Conduct
- Current Prison Custody Level
As the name implies, dynamic factors are those variables which can change, for better or worse. The dynamic factors component of the RAI is the reason the overall parole guideline score can change slightly over time.
Putting It All Together
Once you have the Offense Severity Rating (OSR) and the Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) in place, it’s a simple matter of looking at a chart that has an axis for each of the two variables in order to determine one’s overall Parole Guideline Score.
There are some who believe the Parole Guideline Score is really the only thing that matters to the Board. I disagree. I think it’s more correct to state that the guideline score is an important consideration, but it’s really more of a tool that experts claim voters can use to help them make wise decisions. If, however, one has a poor guideline score, it is very important to be realistic about making parole quickly or easily. Moreover, since at least a portion of the data used to get a score can be changed for the better, inmates with poor parole guideline scores would be wise to understand how they can take steps to improve the score, even if such improvement may take years to put in place.