Texas taking new approach to parole decisions

Defying its tough-on-crime image, the state of Texas paroled more prisoners this past fiscal year than in any other in the last decade - 24,342 from September 2010 through August 2011. This means about one-third of parole applications were granted, a rate about six percent higher than it was 10 years ago.

What is parole?

Parole, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is the "conditional release of a prisoner from imprisonment before the full sentence has been served." Parole is normally conditional on the convicted criminal having regular contact with a parole officer and sometimes on other conditions of release, like possibly wearing an electronic monitoring device. Parole is a kind of controlled, supervised freedom. Violation of the rules of parole can result in the parolee being sent back to prison.

Recent Texas parole trends

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on information released by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles about the state of parole in Texas.

The number of Texas parole revocation hearings rose in the past fiscal year, reportedly because the outcome of a lawsuit mandated that the state hold more preliminary hearings to determine whether parolees have broken the law. This follows a steady decrease over the past decade.

Despite the number of hearings going up, the actual number of people having their parole revoked is dropping. The state of Texas is implementing alternative strategies such as keeping a person on parole, but imposing treatment or confinement in a community-based facility instead of going back to prison.

Sex offenders on parole

Another possible reason for people not losing parole status is the apparent success of a relatively new nine-month group and individual counseling program for "medium risk" sex offenders that must be completed before starting parole. The completion rate has been extremely high.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, Texas officials say it's better to parole a sexually violent convict who has almost completed his or her sentence rather than just releasing the defendant directly to complete freedom on the streets. This is because during parole, law enforcement can impose strict monitoring conditions.

Texas parole policies

Texas officials feel current state guidelines allow a better prediction of which prisoners will be successful on parole and for that reason, the officials do not apologize for paroling more prisoners. Indeed, the numbers do show that the reoffending rate among parolees decreased three percent last year from the previous year.

However, victims' rights groups are concerned about convicted criminals serving enough time to have deterrent effect.

Legislators say state reforms focus on keeping the most violent criminals in prison and on helping less dangerous offenders manage the transition back to the community. To accomplish this new emphasis on rehabilitation, instead of building new corrections facilities, funds are being invested in treatment programs for substance addiction and anger management; for education; and for counseling.

In addition, one state prison was closed down, with Texas only needing to accommodate 154,000 inmates last year - the fewest in five years.

The Chronicle quotes Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, as touting this new spending approach as a $2 billion savings for the state coffers.

If you or someone you love faces the possibility of parole or of parole being revoked in Texas, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your options and to help you fight for your rights and freedom.