I’ve represented clients in parole review all over Texas. As the vote date approaches, my clients and their family often have questions, mostly about what the Parole Board is up to and when they will vote. I’ve put together some general answers to the most common questions raised by my clients and their families. As always, this isn’t legal advice. Find a good parole lawyer to get specific advice for your loved one’s case.
1. What does it mean to be in parole review?
In Texas, inmates go into parole review 6 months before their first parole review date or 4 months before any subsequent parole review date. Theoretically, a Texas Parole Board can vote to release or deny release to an inmate any time during that 6 or 4-month review period. But that almost never happens. Most Boards will vote on an inmate within a few weeks of the parole review date. So what is the point of having an inmate in parole review status for so long? I think the most helpful way to understand the parole review period is from an administrative perspective. Having an inmate in “parole review” means that TDCJ is on the clock for getting the file prepared for the Board to vote and getting the inmate interview completed. It also provides specific timelines for parole attorneys to prepare and submit parole packets and support materials to the board.
2. When do we need to submit our letters of support to the TDCJ parole board?
Under Texas Administrative Code Rule 141.60, “copies of all information and arguments in support of an offender’s release may be submitted to members of the parole panel designated to hear the case” during the review period. For purposes of submitting written material, the “review period” for submission ends 2 months prior to the month in which the inmate is scheduled to be voted. So, for example, if the client has a parole review date of July 10, then all written materials need to be submitted by the end of April.
Now, a panel may consider documents filed after the review period ends, but the best practice is get all materials to the board promptly and not violate the Texas Administrative Code Rules.
3. Does the inmate get to attend the parole interview?
This can be confusing. Once an inmate is in review, he will be interviewed by an Institutional Parole Officer (IPO). The IPO will prepare a written report which will be submitted to the parole panel selected to vote on the inmate’s parole However, the inmate does not attend the parole interview conducted by the parole panel at the parole attorney’s request. These are two different events. The IPO interview typically occurs 1 month before the parole panel votes. The interview between the panel, parole attorney, and other witnesses typically occurs a few days before the actual vote. The inmate/client is never part of the board interview.
Here’s how I explain the general process to clients: when you do the IPO interview that is a notice that you’ll probably be voted in the next 3-5 weeks. This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking this timeline will hold. Then, about a week before the board. votes, I’ll get a call from a board staffer to set up an interview date directly with the lead voter on the panel. After confirming the date, I’ll call the witnesses and make them aware of the date of the interview. Once the interview is completed, the panel will vote within a few days.
But please keep in mind that the parole panel may interview the inmate, and, under certain circumstances must interview the inmate directly. Talk to your parole attorney about the mandatory inmate interview provisions.
4. My loved one got voted FI-1 release, so why isn’t he out yet??
Even if a client if voted FI-1 (release when eligible), he still has to go through release processing, which can be a real headache. The case must be sent to a district parole office so that the release residence can be confirmed. The case also has to be screened for compliance. Additionally, if the client gets in trouble after a release vote he can be revoted. In other words, things can still go wrong.
The biggest problem is with clients who have sex offender conditions. You’ll need to consult directly with a parole lawyer or knowledgable post-conviction attorney about negotiating the pitfalls of such conditions.
Only after the case is vetted by the district parole office will a release certificate be issued to the inmate.
5. What should my support letter say?
I always tell my client’s family members to be specific. If you think that your loved one will be successful on parole, explain why you think that (and don’t just say it’s because he’s a good guy). If you think your loved one has changed and matured, tell the board why. What have you noticed? What seems different?
Parole panels are busy. They see lots of cases and vote often. Be direct, keep the letters short, and give voters something unique to consider if you can.
Finally, focus on the game plan. What will your loved one be doing upon release? Will there be a stable home, reliable transportation, a good chance to land a job? These things matter. Write about them.
6. Do I even need a parole lawyer?
Maybe not. You certainly don’t have to retain a parole lawyer. Boards have guidelines, but the Texas Administrative Rules require panel voters to consider each case on its merits. If you think your loved one’s case is straightforward, then maybe just submitting letters of support is the best plan.
The Texas Parole Board operates under Parole Guidelines that consist of a numbered Risk Assessment and an Offense Severity Class ranking. The Guidelines are plugged into a “matrix” which is really just a chart, with one axis consisting of the risk assessment and the second axis consisting of the offense severity. The chart produces a Parole Guideline Score from 1 (lowest chance of success) to 7 (highest chance of success).
Lawyer or no lawyer, your loved one has a set Guideline Score. I can’t change that score and neither can my competitors. If you think that score is the most important thing to the parole board, don’t hire a lawyer.
However, if you think that other information could persuade a panel voter, then having an advocate to assist your loved one might be helpful.
I hope this FAQ answered at least a few of your questions.
Best of luck,