Parole Decision-Making in Texas

Inmates in Texas prisons (TDCJ) are reviewed by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles after a portion of the sentence has been completed.  Parole eligibility is attained, on most offenses, after one fourth of the sentence has been completed through a combination of actual time served and accrued good conduct time.  Certain types of serious offenses, however, do not result in  parole eligibility until ONE HALF of the sentence has been served day for day.The process of parole consideration does not include a formal hearing affording the inmate the right to be heard, face to face, by the actual decision-maker. The offender,* instead, is interviewed by a TDCJ Parole Division staff member in advance of "voting" by Board Member or Commissioner.  The information gathered from this prison interview is reduced to a "transmittal" that is seen, along with the entire file, by the person who will place the lead vote on the case.  Depending on the particular offender's history and length of incarceration, the file could be thin, or it could be several inches thick.  All previous criminal records of the individual, as well as all records from prison, are incorporated into the parole file. Most files, today, are electronicly stored on computers.

*"Offender" is the politically correct institutional label given the incarcerated.  "Convict" and "Inmate" are monikers defined by offenders' culture, but that's another story.

Except for extraordinary offenses (capital murder, certain sexual assault cases) voting is done among the deciders by parole panels consisting of a combination of three board members or commissioners.  The lead vote is followed by the decision of a second panel member, and if the two agree the result is set.  Third votes are made to decide cases whereby the lead and second voters disagree.

Legal Representation During Parole Consideration

My role, as Attorney representing the parole-eligible client, is to present a concise packet of positive information that is, otherwise, not contained in the parole file material reviewed by the panel.  I speak to the panel member who has the lead vote in the case and travel to the Parole Board office for the interview. My objective is to get supporters and family members in front of the decision maker. To that end, I must gather as much information as possible. This information comes primarily from the client, but family members and friends in the community must help me out also. For example, I require, for inclusion in the packet, some support letters and color photos of the client in "normal" situations in the free world. I use the guidelines published by Parole to find every objective reason to release the client.

The legal fees are set according to several factors, including severity of offense and length of sentence. My fees include all expenses except for items like special professonal evaluations, statements of fact from trials or polygraphs. I will make at least one personal visit to the unit.

Once this firm is retained, the client will receive a lengthy questionnaire requesting the kind of information needed to prepare the informative and positive summary (Parole Packet) for the benefit of the parole panel. Free world family and friends should direct all support letters to me for inclusion in the packet. Upon release from prison, the offender will serve the balance of the sentence on parole or mandatory supervision.  There is a distinction between "parole" and "discretionary mandatory supervision," but I'll not delve into that in this limited forum, as both types of supervision involve identical terms and conditions of release.  Both will be referred to as "parole."

Details are found at Texas Government Code 508.149(a).


If, after release from prison, a parolee is charged with violating one or more of the rules of parole supervision, a warrant ("Blue Warrant") might be issued for which no bail available.  A hearing should then held as quickly as possible to determine, whether, based on a preponderance of evidence (as opposed to the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" in criminal trials)  any rule has been violated.  

If the hearing officer makes a finding that a rule violation occurred, the hearing proceeds to a second phase known as "adjustment."  Evidence is taken on matters pertaining to how well the parolee did during the time she was under supervision.  This kind of information can be determinative of the final outcome.

The Hearing Officer forwards a written report of the hearing to the Parole Board, who makes the ultimate decision to either revoke parole or continue supervision.

Because I was one of the original twelve Hearing Officers in the State of Texas, beginning in September 1980 and continuing until July 1985, when I decided to go to law school, I possess the knowledge and insight needed to effectively represent parolees at revocation hearings. (Thirty years of representing parolees helps also.)