The Texas parole system can be extremely frustrating, even for those fortunate inmates who get voted for release on their first review. It’s best for those going into the TDCJ system and their families to be aware of the potential delays and pitfalls in the parole system so that they can be proactive. I’ve prepared some highlights of the bureaucratic process you’ll have to negotiate. Please understand this is a general summary. Every case has specific facts that will need to be addressed by the inmate’s parole lawyer.
- The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole is administratively distinct from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (and this matters).
If you go to the Parole Board (BPP) website, you’ll see a url that includes “TDCJ.” So you’d assume that the BPP is just another department inside the criminal justice system in Texas. But in fact the BPP operates separately.
This is important because the BPP’s only job is to vote for release or denial of release (a job done by the parole board members and commissioners who sit on seven different parole boards across Texas). As part of the voting process, the board also assigns conditions for release.
Since the BPP only votes, that leaves the job of administratively processing and preparing an inmate for release to someone else. Which brings us to the second important point.
2. A vote for release is the beginning, not the end, of the Texas parole process.
Once the Parole Board votes for release, the inmate isn’t just let out on the street. Instead, the BPP sends his file back to TDCJ Parole Division Office so that a parole plan investigation can be completed.
What is important to understand is that the Parole Board has nothing to do with this investigation. Let that sink in a moment. So you’ve been voted for release, but then all of a sudden there’s a new person assigned to your case. This person has to verify the place where you will be living and make sure you’ve completed all necessary conditions for release, including substance abuse or decision-making classes.
During this “lag time” lots of things can go sideways.
First, you might have to wait awhile to take the required class. This can be frustrating — all you want to do is get out, but there you are waiting in line for a class.
Second, if your living arrangements fall through, you could get a “fail” on your parole plan, leading to an administrative denial for release even though you were voted out by the parole board! It’s not your fault your living arrangements fell through, but TDCJ won’t release you unless you’ve got a place to go. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be sent to one of the Texas halfway houses — the dreaded Residential Re-entry Centers (RRC), which deserve a separate blog post. But if TDCJ can’t find another place to send you and your residential sponsor refuses to let you stay with them, then TDCJ guidelines mandate placement at an RRC.
Third, while you’re waiting for parole plan approval and trying to compete all pre-release coursework, a victim from a past offense could contact TDCJ. TDCJ protocol allows for victim participation in the parole review and release process. Although specific procedures are in place for the board to receive input from victims, sometimes votes happen prior to a victim coming in to provide a statement. However, victims can still administratively protest your release even after the board has voted! This means that while you are waiting parole plan approval, TDCJ can take victim statements into account and recommend to the board that they reverse their vote.
3. You don’t get a certificate until your parole plan is approved and sent back to BPP.
The BPP won’t issue a release certificate until you’ve got an approved parole plan. Even then, it will still be a few weeks until you are actually in the free world. The certificate has to be sent to Huntsville. Once HQ has it, you’ll probably be transferred to another facility, then released a couple weeks later…finally!
So with all these pitfalls, what should you do?
First, be prepared. Make sure your residential sponsor is reliable and willing to both talk to a TDCJ parole officer and allow the officer to inspect the residence. Also, if you have to register as a sex offender, you should have a residential plan in place prior to parole review! There are strict distance limitations for the residence to meet before you are approved. Discuss these with a parole attorney or other person familiar with the process.
Second, have a contingency plan if you can. If your sponsor bails on you, try to make sure there is someone else you can fall back on, and make sure they are willing to talk to TDCJ!
Finally, be patient. I know this is a big ask. It’s always great news to hear that a family member has been approved for release to parole. But remember this loved one still has to go through a long bureaucratic process before he is released. Be mentally prepared to support your loved one through that process.