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Texas Policy Foundation Parole Report 2011

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The Role of Parole in Texas:
Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

by Marc Levin, Esq.


Director, Center for
Effective Justice

Texas recently earned national acclaim for
avoiding what was expected to be a catastrophic prison overcrowding crisis. In 2005, in anticipation of overcrowding, the Legislative Budget Board recommended building more than
17,000 new prison beds. Texas did not build the
beds, however, and it still managed to reduce
crime throughout the state. Part of the credit
for this impressive accomplishment must go to
the state’s parole system. In 2009, out of 76,607
parole-eligible cases considered, 23,182 Texas
inmates were placed on some kind of parole
supervision.1 More importantly, the number of
parolees revoked to prison has sharply declined
from 11,311 in 2004 to 6,678 in 2010, reflecting
a drop in both new crimes and technical violations serious enough to warrant revocation.2

Vikrant P. Reddy, Esq.
Policy Analyst, Center for
Effective Justice

• Regularly update
offense classifications
and prioritize
nonviolent, low-risk
inmates and those who
are not incarcerated for
a new offense.
• Create earned time
incentive for state jail
• Continue enhancing
collaboration between
parole system, state
government, and local
law enforcement.
• Provide qualified
relief to employers in
negligent hiring suits.
• Create a brief reentry
supervision period for
parole eligible inmates
denied parole


May 2011
Center for Effective Justice

The parole system is designed to ensure those
leaving prison are under supervision during
their initial reentry into society and promote
order in prisons by providing inmates with an
incentive for good behavior, but it is also the
primary means by which the state controls the
size and cost of the prison population at the
back-end of the system. Some states don’t have
parole and instead adhere to “truth-in-sentencing” policies which incarcerate offenders for
every day of their sentence. While such policies
have some appeal, they don’t allow for an appraisal of the inmate’s behavior in prison and
his efforts at self-improvement through completing rehabilitation programs. As conservative Congressman Howard Coble of North
Carolina noted, “I still embrace the theory of
locking the cell door if an offender has been
convicted of a crime. But I don’t say throw the
key away. I say, keep the key handy, so the same
key that locked that door can also unlock it.”3

In a practical sense, parole is also the state’s
response to the problematic incentive created
by a dual system of locally elected prosecutors
and judges and state-funded incarceration. The
incentive is for locally elected officials to seek
public support and eliminate any risk of crime
in their local jurisdictions through the longest
sentences possible for every offender at the
state’s expense, as opposed to managing risks
by balancing incarceration costs with other priorities, such as better policing programs that
may prevent more crime for every dollar spent.
In Texas, parole revocations have declined in recent years, from 14.8 percent in 2004 to 8.2 percent in 2010.4 Further parole reforms, if properly
targeted, could improve this, staving off prison
crowding problems long before they start and
contributing to gains in public safety. The recommendations below stand in stark contrast to
the late 1980’s debacle when the state leadership
decided to turn the parole system into a gigantic
jailbreak rather than incur the cost of building
new lockups. At that time, some 750 prisoners
were being released early every week, including
many murderers and rapists.5
There are key differences, however, in our situation today: 1) the state has more than three
times as many prison beds due to the early
1990s prison building spree triggered in part by
the public outrage at these releases in the 1980s;
2) carefully targeted changes have resulted in
only a slight increase in the total parole rate
from 27 to 31 percent;6 and 3) the state has far
more nonviolent inmates today who are either
ineligible for parole or who are being refused
parole. By continuing to focus parole changes
on this population, the state can avoid building
new prisons while also not repeating the mistakes of the past.
continued on next page

The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

May 2011

Figure 1: Texas Parole Has Increased Even While Crime Has Declined









Sources: ???

Overview of the Parole System
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (TBPP), a separate
constitutional entity whose budget is within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), has 12 full-time commissioners who review prisoners’ files and, in some cases, conduct
interviews, usually by phone, to determine whether an early
release should be granted. Current law provides two primary
means by which prisoners may be released early: discretionary
mandatory supervision (DMS) and parole.
Table 1: Texas Trend: Lower Incarceration
Rate & Less Crime

Incarceration Rate Per
100,000 Residents

Serious Crimes Per
100,000 Residents




% Change





Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics and Texas Law Enforcement
Agency Uniform Crime Reports7

In 1995, the Legislature abolished mandatory supervision
(MS), which automatically released inmates after their calendar time served and good time equaled the sentence. While
inmates sentenced before September 1, 1996 remain eligible
for MS, all other inmates are governed by DMS. Just as with
MS, the most serious violent criminals are ineligible for DMS.
This group of offenders, known as “3g offenders,” includes


prisoners guilty of murder, capital murder, indecency with a
child, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and
aggravated robbery.8
The word “discretionary” signifies that the parole board must
still approve the release after the combination of time served
and good time equal the sentence. There are two criteria for
the decision: whether the time served is indicative of the inmate’s rehabilitation and whether the inmate presents a danger to society. Well-behaved inmates, as a general rule, receive
one year of good time for every year served. In 2009, 48.28
percent of inmates eligible for DMS were released.9
Most inmates become eligible for parole when the their actual
calendar time served plus good conduct time equals one-fourth
of the sentence imposed or 15 years, whichever is less. However,
“3g offenders” must serve one-half of their sentence or 30 calendar years, whichever is less, before becoming parole eligible.
Eligible inmates receive a score of between one and seven, with
seven being the best, based on their offense level and individualized risk level. The TBPP utilizes a schedule that classifies over
1,900 offenses as low, medium, high, or very high severity.10 The
second component of the inmate’s score is their individual risk
factors, which include age, gang membership, employment history, and prison disciplinary record. In 2001, the TBPP adopted
guidelines that provide a recommended percentage range for
approvals for inmates at each of the seven levels. In 2009, 30.26
percent of inmates eligible for parole were released.11

Texas Public Policy Foundation

May 2011

The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

Figure 2: Texas Parole Revocations: 2001-2010

Sources: Legislative Budget Board; Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Statistical Report”

For MS, DMS, and parole, the TBPP may set conditions for
release in addition to the regular reporting requirements.
These can include participation in a pre-release treatment
program and GPS monitoring upon release. The Parole Division of TDCJ also operates residential intermediate sanction
facilities, which currently house 1,793 offenders who have
violated a condition of their parole. In 2009, 7,471 parolees
were revoked to prison.12 Of these revocations, 1,045 were for
technical violations.

Recommended Policy Approaches
Regularly Update Offense Classifications and Prioritize Nonviolent, Low-risk Inmates and Those Who Are Not Incarcerated
for a New Offense
Guidelines adopted by the TBPP in 2001 called for 76 to 100
percent of inmates at level 7 to be approved for parole. Level 7
inmates are nonviolent offenders who also have low individualized risk assessments. Many of them were convicted for possessing a small amount of drugs. Similarly, the recommended
range for inmates at level 6 is between 51 and 75 percent.
While the offense classifications are evidence-based and largely categorize nonviolent crimes as low and medium severity
and violent crimes as high and very high severity, the TBPP
should ensure that it regularly updates the classifications to
see if some crimes may be moved into the levels that call for
higher levels of release. Appropriately, homicide, kidnapping,

Texas Public Policy Foundation

and rape are rated “high,” and capital murder and aggravated
kidnapping and rape are rated “very high.” The failure to remit taxes of $200,000, however, also receives a “high” designation.13
In addition to updating the offense classifications, which
could result in properly placing more offenders in levels 6
and 7, another way to increase the parole rate of level 6 and 7
offenders would be to grant release if their first parole commissioner votes “yes” while continuing the current system
of requiring two out of three votes for other offenders. This
would also reduce the strain on the parole commissioners,
allowing them to focus more resources on the most difficult
cases. Some parole commissioners review as many as 15,000
cases per year, and on average the commissioners have only
fourteen minutes to consider each case.
One weakness of the current parole process is that when a
parole file is presented to the Board, there is no indication as
to whether the inmate is incarcerated on a new charge or has
been revoked from probation for technical violations. Technical violations include missing meetings and do not involve an
allegation of a new offense. A provision of HB 3386 by House
Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, which may be attached
to other legislation, would specify that when a nonviolent
probationer is revoked solely for technical violations, they
would serve one year before being released to supervision. Per
a recommendation from prosecutors, an updated version of


The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

May 2011

Figure 3: Three-Year Re-Incarceration Rate of Texas Inmates by Year of Release

Sources: Legislative Budget Board; Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Criminal Justice Policy Council

this provision specifies that if the same probationer is again revoked for technical violations, that would trigger a prison term
for the entire remaining sentence. In 2010, there were some
9,786 technical probation revocations with an average of 5.37
years remaining on these sentences at the time of revocation.14
Empirical research has demonstrated that there is no connection between the length of time served and recidivism and that
inmates who serve longer, particularly nonviolent, low-risk inmates, recidivate at a higher rate because they become more
hardened and disconnected from how to live by the rules in the
real world and critical supports such as family and church.15

Currently, state jail confinees are simply discharged to the
street and are not subsequently monitored. Even though an
early release program for state jail felons would put more of
them on the street sooner, the crime attributable to them may
decrease, because many would be released under supervision
with access to reentry services, to the extent they are available.
It is clear the current flat discharge approach is not working,
as state jail inmates, although the lowest-level offenders in
the system, have a 64 percent three year re-arrest rate compared with a 49 percent rate for prison inmates, the majority
of whom are discharged on to parole supervision.17

Create Earned Time Incentive for State Jail Offenders
The more than 12,000 confinees in state jail are not eligible
for DMS or parole. Therefore, they serve 100 percent of their
sentences, which are a maximum of two years. Yet, these nonviolent offenders have committed less serious drug and property offenses than their counterparts in prison. Many of these
state jail felons were convicted of possessing a small amount of
drugs, stealing, graffiti, or writing a hot check.

In the 2011 Legislative Session, HB 3366, proposed by Rep.
James White (R-Tyler), and HB 2649 by Rep. Alma Allen (DHouston) which has been approved by the House, would allow state jail inmates to earn up to 20 or 25 percent of the
time off their sentence through diligent participation credits.
The credits would be based on successful completion of selfimprovement programming, including work and vocational,
educational, and treatment programs. This would encourage
personal responsibility, provide wardens a tool for inmate
management, and incentivize participation in those programs
that have been proven to reduce recidivism.

There are 6,200 state jail confinees on hand with sentences of
between one and two years, including 1,767 for the two year
maximum.16 TDCJ has stated that these beds can be used for
prisoners who do not require maximum security facilities,
and indeed more than half of those now in state jails are transferees from prison.*

Offenders with a prior conviction for a serious violent or sex
offense are excluded from both bills, as are any offenders with
two or more prior felonies. Additionally, the judge in whose

* These prison inmates in state jails are not considered among the approximately 12,000 “state jail confinees.” They are housed in state jails for capacity reasons.


Texas Public Policy Foundation

May 2011

The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

Table 2: Texas Parole Revocation Rate Has Significantly Declined
Average Active
Parole Population

Parole Revocation
Admissions to Prison

Revocation Rate









































Fiscal Year

Sources: Legislative Budget Board; Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Statistical Report”

court the inmate was sentenced could block the release if they
determine the offender is a danger to public safety. The primary difference in the two bills is that under HB 2649 a judge
could put the state jail inmate on probation for the remaining portion of their sentence using the current “shock probation” statute, whereas under HB 3366 the default would be,
if the judge does not act, that the inmate would reenter on
probation. Since the “shock probation” statute is very rarely
used at present, under both bills, a significant share of state
jail inmates who are now released “off paper” would be discharged under supervision. This means they would be required to comply with relevant probation conditions (e.g.,
regular reporting, a work requirement, drug testing, attending substance abuse or mental health treatment, staying away
from gangs and other anti-social peers). In contrast, when an
inmate is flat discharged, local communities and law enforcement have no way of knowing who these people are and where
they are living. Of particular concern are the many state jail
inmates with serious mental illness and on powerful psychiatric medications who are now discharged without supervision.
Since they cannot be required to continue treatment and only
12 percent voluntarily showed up for their first appointment
with the local mental health authority, the state discontinued
making such appointments a couple of years ago.18
HB 3366 also specifies that if, after being placed on community supervision, the offender substantially violates the terms
of supervision, they could be placed in an intermediate sanc-

Texas Public Policy Foundation

tions facility, which are state-run lockups designed for shortterm incarceration of up to 180 days. In the case of a new offense, the offender could and should be prosecuted and likely
would be sent to prison for an extended period as a repeat
The fiscal notes for these bills indicate that, in the 2012-13
biennium, HB 2649 would save $48.99 million while HB 3366
would save $72.36 million.19
Continue Enhancing Collaboration Between Parole System,
State Government and Local Law Enforcement
The public is likely to be more receptive to the parole of additional nonviolent inmates if effective parole supervision and
law enforcement practices are in place. After all, if more Texans are being paroled, the state has a responsibility to ensure
that they receive appropriate supervision in the community.
Fortunately, the Parole Division has long utilized the progressive sanctions model that swiftly addresses technical parole
violations. Additionally, the Division has begun working with
the Austin Police Department to overlay the location of parolees with the Department’s GPS system. Police should know
where parolees are and parolees should know that they are
being watched by law enforcement in addition to their parole
Research has shown that community-oriented policing can
deter and solve more crimes by increasing the visibility of


The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

law enforcement, encouraging neighbors to cooperate with
police, and curbing an atmosphere of disorder through consistent but measured responses to minor crimes.20 The latter
approach is often termed “broken windows” policing and is
partly credited for making New York City the safest major
city in the United States (2,675.5 reported crimes per 100,000
people) according to FBI crime statistics released in 2006.21
Dallas, by contrast, is among the most dangerous (8,484.4
reported crimes per 100,000 people).22 Effective community
policing requires a force large enough to initiate activity rather than simply respond to calls, best practices for assigning
officers to beats and neighborhoods, and a performance system that measures the effectiveness of officers by more than
simply time worked and arrests.
Provide Qualified Relief to Employers in Negligent Hiring Suits
While it is clear that from a criminal justice and economic
perspective that the employment of ex-offenders should be
encouraged, our civil liability system is working at crosspurposes with this goal. The Urban Institute noted, “The high
probability of losing coupled with the magnitude of settlement awards suggest that fear of litigation may substantially
deter employers from hiring applicants with criminal history
records.”23 That fear is not without basis. Employers lose 72
percent of negligent hiring cases with an average settlement
of more than $1.6 million.24
HB 3327 by Rep. Beverly Woolley would give ex-offenders a
second chance, promote workforce productivity, lower crime,
and reduce incarceration costs by establishing that employers,
contractors, and premises owners cannot, except in certain
exceptional circumstances spelled out in the legislation, be
sued for negligent hiring on the basis that the employee had
previously committed a nonviolent criminal offense. Such
legislation has been recommended by the American Bar Association and enacted in Kansas.
Expand the use of GPS Technology
Texas has admirably utilized GPS technology to monitor parolees, but as technology advances, the state should advance
with it. The only tracking technology that is currently used is
via a link to the home telephone, a method that is increasingly
outdated. With active GPS monitoring, however, officers can
watch parolees much more closely. They can tell, for example,
whether an offender was present at a crime scene. They can
also monitor whether the parolee is in a place known for high
levels of drug trafficking or near a school. Perhaps most im-


May 2011

portantly, GPS technology can help to monitor pure technical violations as opposed to abscondees. A Florida study of
75,661 individuals conducted in 2006 concluded that with the
use of electronic monitoring, offenders were 89 to 95 percent
less likely to be revoked for a new offense.25
Active GPS monitoring is not inexpensive. The technology
costs more than twice the parole system’s daily cost of $3.51.
Costs can be mitigated, however, by using GPS technology
in narrowly tailored fashion. For example, active GPS is ideal
for high-risk offenders because it allows the police to respond
instantly to violations. For lower-risk offenders, it may suffice to use less expensive radio frequency technology. A particularly promising area to apply electronic monitoring is to
parolees detained in county jails on “blue warrants” for allegedly committing technical violations such as missing appointments. They can wait at least a month in the county jail at the
county’s expense while the Parole Board decides whether to
revoke them. HB 2735 by Rep. Jerry Madden, which passed
the House and is being considered by the Senate, would allow
these individuals to be eligible for release on bond. If this is enacted, it presents an opportunity to use electronic monitoring
to ensure these parolees appear for their revocation hearing.
Create a Brief Reentry Supervision Period for Parole Eligible
Inmates Denied Parole
Not all parole-eligible inmates ought to be granted parole, and
thus the TBPP is rightly granted discretion to make parole decisions. Even those offenders who are denied parole, however,
could be made eligible for a supervised reentry period.
In the 2011 legislative session, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Rio
Grande City) introduced SB 976 and HB 1299, respectively.
The legislation proposes to allow parole-eligible individuals
nearing their full “end-of-sentence” date to be released for
a period of supervision. This measure would result in some
5,320 fewer inmates being discharged without any supervision
and with merely a $50 bus ticket. Whether the right number
is 90 percent or 95 percent of their sentence, it makes sense
to ensure inmates spend at least few months under parole
supervision as the immediate period following incarceration
may determine whether they go return to the same association and activities that landed them in prison or chart a new
course. Providing these individuals with post-release supervision will likely reduce recidivism, and it will subsequently
reduce the accompanying the financial strain associated with

Texas Public Policy Foundation

May 2011

further incarceration. Savings of approximately $33.1 million
are projected.

Some may say parole is a topic a Texas politician wouldn’t touch
with a 10-foot pole. No one wants to be blamed for releasing
an inmate who commits another crime. Yet, with limited taxpayer resources for corrections and law enforcement, risk must
be managed and funds allocated to strategies that will be most

The Role of Parole in Texas: Achieving Public Safety and Efficiency

effective in reducing crime. Parole must continue to be difficult, if not impossible, for violent criminals and sex offenders
to earn, but lawmakers must also consider parole reforms for
offenders at the other end of that ten foot pole. Through targeted, evidence-based parole initiatives, more nonviolent, low
risk offenders can be released with proper supervision, thereby
safeguarding public safety while also freeing up existing space
behind bars for the most dangerous criminals.


Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Annual Report FY 2009,
Adult & Juvenile Correctional Population Projections Fiscal Years 2011-2016,” Legislative Budget Board (Jan. 2011) 10,
Right on Crime, “What Conservatives Are Saying About Criminal Justice Reform” (Dec. 2010)
Tony Fabelo, “Texas Justice Reinvestment: Outcomes, Challenges and Policy Options to Consider,” Council of State Governments Justice Center (Mar.
2011) 17,
Gary Cartwright, “A System Gone Bad,” Texas Monthly (Aug. 1992)
“Adult and Juvenile Correctional Population Projections, Fiscal Years 2010-2016, Legislative Budget Board (Jan. 2011)
“Prisoners in 2008,” U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (8 Dec. 2009) “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear
2004,” U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (Apr. 2005) Texas Law Enforcement Agency Uniform Crime
Reports Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 Inhabitants (11 Dec. 2009)
These offenses are listed in Article 42.12, Section 3(g)(a)(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles 2005 Annual Report,
Adult and Juvenile Correctional Population Projections, Fiscal Years 2010-2016, Legislative Budget Board (Jan. 2011)
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Annual Report FY 2009, )
Fiscal Note for HB 3386 (25 Apr. 2011)
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Statistical Report (FY2010),
“Statewide Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates,” Legislative Budget Board (Jan. 2011)
“The Biennial Report of the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments” (Feb. 2007)
Fiscal Note for HB 2649, Legislative Budget Board (19 May 2011) Fiscal Note for
HB 3366, Legislative Budget Board (6 May 2011)
William H. Sousa and George Kelling, “Policing Does Matter,” City Journal (Winter 2002)
Emily Vasquez, “New York Is Safest Big City, F.B.I. Report Shows,” New York Times (19 Sept. 2006)
Dallas has 25.05 police officers per 10,000 residents while New York City has 45.95 officers per 10,000 residents. See Texas has an incarceration rate of 694 per 100,000 people compared to New York’s 331 per 100,000 people. See
Harry Holzer, Employment Barriers Facing Ex-Offenders, Urban Institute (19 May 2003)
Mary Connerley, Richard Avery, and Charles Bernardy: “Criminal Background Checks for Prospective and Current Employees: Current Practices among
Municipal Agencies,” Public Personnel Management Vol. 20, No. 2.
See William D. Bales, et. al., “Under Surveillance: An Empirical Test of the Effectiveness and Consequences of Electronic Monitoring,” Criminology and Public
Policy 5.1 (2006) 61-69.

Texas Public Policy Foundation


About the Authors
Marc A. Levin is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Levin is
an attorney and an accomplished author on legal and public policy issues.
Levin has served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and
Staff Attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. In 1999, he graduated with honors from the University of Texas
with a B.A. in Plan II Honors and Government. In 2002, Levin received his J.D. with honors
from the University of Texas School of Law.
Levin’s articles on law and public policy have been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal,
USA Today, Texas Review of Law & Politics, National Law Journal, New York Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Toronto
Star, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Times, Los Angeles
Daily Journal, Charlotte Observer, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, San
Antonio Express-News and Reason Magazine.
Vikrant P. Reddy is a policy analyst in the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Reddy is an attorney and a member of the State Bar of Texas.
Reddy graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Plan II Honors, Economics, and History,
and he earned his law degree at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas.
He has worked as a research assistant at The Cato Institute, as a law clerk to the Hon. Gina M. Benavides of
the Thirteenth Court of Appeals of Texas, and as an attorney in private practice,
focusing on trial and appellate litigation.

About the Texas Public Policy Foundation
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-partisan research institute. The Foundation’s
mission is to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by
educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with
academically sound research and outreach.
Funded by thousands of individuals, foundations, and corporations, the Foundation does not accept government
funds or contributions to influence the outcomes of its research.
The public is demanding a different direction for their government, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation is
providing the ideas that enable policymakers to chart that new course.

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