What do you really know about the Texas Parole Review process?
The mission statement of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society and assist victims of crime. (Quoted from the TDCJ Offender's Orientation Handbook at TDCJ's Information for Families Web Page)
Having worked with inmates and various Prison Ministry, the leaders at The ROC have discovered some surprising facts about the Texas Parole process. We certainly believe scripture teaches that individuals who have broken the law should be held accountable. We support jury and court decisions to incarcerate individuals whose crimes are so serious or habitual that punishment and/or behavior correction are needed. We also understand that some inmates, who have turned their minds over to evil or have not corrected their attitudes and behavior, remain threats to society.
However, our ministry and many in our "flock" have also seen inmates who have been changed through anger management classes, counseling and ...yes, through salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ! Some of these have spent most of their adult life paying for dangerous, stupid, irresponsible choices as young men or women and they sorely regret their sins. Some committed transgressions while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and have been freed from their addictions.
According to TDCJ documentation, an ITP (Individual Treatment Plan) is used to promote and monitor an inmates progress toward that positive change and to determine if that inmate meets the criteria for being reintegrated into society. Unfortunately, some of the families we help are convinced that the present system ignores or never considers the ITP records or positive accomplishments of the inmates. Inmates who have turned their lives around, attending church services or Bible studies inside their prisons, taking classes in anger management and addiction recovery and participating in work programs are being denied probation despite their changes in attitudes, successful completion of their ITPs and positive feedback from their bosses and wardens. Why? The families, the inmates and even their attorneys, cannot find the answers; they are NOT ALLOWED to have copies of the documents used for the reviews or given specifics about the reasons for the denials. Instead, a case usually shows only that it was denied based on the "nature of the crime"!
According to the TDCJ, "Information not normally found in courthouse records is confidential according to Open
Records Decision No. 33 (1974). This includes information that was added by interviewers
or persons who are trying to assess the extent of a prisoner’s rehabilitation, recommendations
for or against parole, and reports having to do with social or antisocial conduct, etc." and "According to Texas Government Code §522.028, a governmental body is not required to accept or
comply with a request for information from an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a
correctional facility, including an intermediate sanction facility. An agency is also not required to
provide information to a person acting as agent, other than the inmate's attorney. While § 522.028
does not prohibit the governmental body from disclosing the information to the inmate or agent, it
is the policy of the Parole Division not to release information to an inmate or agent under normal
circumstances. Upon request, Institutional Parole Officers shall release the latest computer generated
Board Action no more than one (1) time per year to offenders and family members." (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/policy/parole/1.2.1_parole_policy.pdf)
As explained on our Prison Ministry page, we believe that in order to be obedient to God's word, in Matthew 25:34-40 we must help and minister to those in prison. To us, this includes supporting parole reform to make the parole hearing or review process and related records more open and transparent to insure fairness and equity in parole decisions across the state.
In addition, our prisons are overcrowded and our tax dollars are being spent unnecessarily on meals, housing and medical treatment for individuals who have been rehabilitated, but are being refused parole. Find out more about the parole process at Texas Board of Pardons and Parole's FAQ page.
Below are some sites for families and individuals interested in articles, blogs, discussions, support groups and community forums related to this issue. (The ROC does not necessarily agree with some comments and cannot control or condone language used on these sites.)
Great Example of How Probation is Being Denied Despite District Attorneys and TDCJ Propaganda http://blog.austindefense.com/2007/04/articles/probation-jail-and-prison/texas-parole-and-mandatory-release/
Grits For Breakfast Blogspot is all about Texas Prison Reform. Below are just a sample of articles. In fact, the last link will bring up search results for "parole" in his blogs.
National Governors Association Best Practices - Sentencing Reform
Click To Read Our Monthly Newsletter