Parole is a discretionary release from prison. Most prisoners in Texas become eligible for parole before their sentence ends. Once eligible, inmates can be released on parole.
After release, the inmate is put on community supervision. People can then spend the rest of their sentence on parole. If the terms of parole are violated, however, the parolee can be sent back to prison.
1. What is parole in Texas?
Parole is a way for inmates to be released from jail before their sentence ends. Once released, they are supervised in the community, rather than behind bars.
People on parole, or parolees, have to abide by strict terms of their release. If they violate any one of these terms, parole can be revoked. If it gets revoked, the parolees can be sent back to jail. They can be made to serve the rest of their sentence in jail. Note that parole violations are different than probation violations in Texas.
2. Who is eligible for parole?
People serving prison time for a criminal conviction are usually eligible for parole. In Texas, eligibility depends on the criminal conviction. A few convictions are not eligible for parole. Others are eligible, but only after a longer period of time has passed.
People serving the following sentences are not eligible for parole:
- death sentences,
- sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, and
- sentences for the crime of commission of continuous sexual abuse of a minor (Penal Code 21.02).
All other criminal convictions are eligible for parole. However, Texas delays parole eligibility for some offenses.
3. When do inmates become eligible for parole?
The date that inmates become eligible for parole depends on their conviction.
In most cases, inmates are eligible for parole when their time served plus good conduct time equals:
- 25 percent of the jail sentence, or
- 15 years.
Example: George was convicted of drug trafficking. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail. He will be eligible for parole in 2.5 years.
Example: Carol was sentenced to 100 years for embezzlement. She will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
However, a conviction for a 3G offense changes parole eligibility. In Texas, 3G offenses include:
- Sexual assault on or with a child (Penal Code 22.011),
- Aggravated robbery (Penal Code Penal Code 29.03),
- Murder (Penal Code 19.02), and
- Intoxicated manslaughter (Penal Code 49.08).
To become eligible for parole, inmates serving a sentence for a 3G offense:
- have to serve at least 2 years in jail,
- do not get good time credits for time served, and
- have to serve at least half of their jail sentence.
Inmates convicted of capital murder (Penal Code 19.03) are only eligible for parole after serving 40 years in jail.
Convictions for the following crimes are eligible for parole after 35 years:
- Aggravated kidnapping with intent to commit sexual abuse (Penal Code 20.04),
- Burglary of a habitation with intent to commit a felony (Penal Code 30.02(d)),
- Indecency with a child by contact (Penal Code 21.11(a)(1)), or
- Aggravated sexual assault (Penal Code 22.021).
4. How are inmates released on parole?
Inmates are only released on parole if a Texas parole board approves it. This decision happens in a parole hearing.
The parole hearing takes place as an inmate's eligibility for release approaches. A notice of the hearing is sent to the:
- victim, or the victim's family,
- attorneys, and
- trial officials.
Before the hearing, a parole officer interviews the inmate. He or she prepares a summary of the case for the parole board. That summary will be used by the board during the hearing.
The inmate does not have a right to be present at the parole hearing. However, he or she can send a lawyer to represent them. The lawyer can present a parole packet. This packet explains why parole should be granted.
The parole board consists of 3 people. It takes 2 votes to make a decision. The board can either grant or deny parole.
The factors that the board considers can include:
- the severity of the offense,
- the inmate's criminal record,
- the amount of jail time that has been served, already,
- any letters in support of parole, and
- the inmate's behavior in jail.
If parole is denied, the board can either:
- set off the decision for the next parole review hearing, or
- deny parole and refuse to hold another hearing in the future.
If parole is granted, the parole board can put conditions on it. Those conditions are often similar to the terms of community supervision. However, the parole board can also require the inmate to:
- register as a sex offender, or
- complete a rehab program.
The terms of parole are outlined in the inmate's release plan.
5. Can parole be revoked?
Parole can be revoked after it has been granted. Revocations can happen if any of the terms in the release plan are violated. In Texas, even minor violations can lead to a revocation.
If law enforcement learns that a term of the release plan may have been violated, they can file a motion to adjudicate with the court. The court can then issue a bench warrant for the parolee's arrest. A revocation hearing will be scheduled.
At the revocation hearing, the prosecutor will try to show that parole has been violated. They have to show this by a preponderance of the evidence. The parolee can challenge the prosecutor's case.
If the judge decides that parole was not violated, parole will continue.
If the judge finds that there was a violation, he or she can:
- decide the violation was minor and release the parolee with no changes,
- release the parolee and increase the terms of parole to make them stricter,
- send the parolee to an inpatient treatment facility, often for drug or alcohol rehab, or
- revoke parole and send the parolee back to jail.