Fewer restrictions not an option
Life without parole offenders face a lifetime
of tight supervision
A lifetime of tight supervision awaits offenders sentenced to life without parole in Texas.
In fact, offenders who commit a crime of capital murder after September 1, 2005 and are sentenced to life without parole are not eligible for a less restrictive custody than General Population Level 3 (G3), a level that restricts where they are housed and the jobs they can perform. Specifically, such offenders cannot be assigned to dormitories located outside of the main building and are kept from jobs where they would be allowed access to multiple areas of a unit. But unlike other G3 offenders who can eventually become eligible for promotion to a less restrictive custody, those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole cannot.
“With life without parole, G3 is the highest custody level an offender can receive,” said Classification and Records Operations Manager Becky Price.
TDCJ designated G3 as the entry-level custody status for offenders sentenced to life without parole after lawmakers made it a sentencing option in capital murder cases during the last regular legislative session. Previously, jurors could sentence a convicted capital murderer to death by lethal injection or to life in prison, a punishment that required the offender to serve 40 years before becoming eligible for parole consideration. The new legislation replaced life with the sentence of life without parole and is applicable only in capital murder cases.
The agency consulted other states while developing its final approach to classifying offenders sentenced to life without parole.
The G3 custody level is designed primarily for offenders serving sentences of 50 years or more. It falls in the middle of the agency’s five general population custody categories and is assigned to long-term offenders who abide by the rules and regulations. The more restrictive G4 custody is often attached to chronic rule violators, while G5 custody offenders generally have histories of assault against staff or other inmates. Thirty-six units across the state are designated to house the more than 4,100 offenders now assigned to the G3 custody level in TDCJ.
As with offenders sentenced to death in capital murder cases, life without parole offenders will be brought into the prison system through two designated units, the Byrd Unit in Huntsville and the Reception Center in Gatesville. They can then be assigned to any of the units designated to house them.
Texas had been one of the only four states that had no life without parole sentencing option. Seven states California, Florida, Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have more than 1,000 prisoners each serving sentences of life without parole. With 10 percent, Louisiana leads the nation with the highest percentage of inmates serving life without the possibility of parole. At the end of July, Texas had 8,088 offenders serving life sentences, including 1,756 for capital murder. The state’s death row population numbered 411 as of the end of August.
Opponents to the life without parole sentencing option argued prior to its passage that it would make Texas prisons more crowded and dangerous because there would be no incentive for good behavior. But because life without parole is a sentencing option only in capital murder cases, TDCJ officials don’t expect it to have an adverse effect on the prison population.
“The life without parole that passed in Texas is strictly for capital murder, whereas a lot of the other states have a lot of different ways to get to life without parole,” Price said. “Louisiana has the life without parole sentencing option available for a number of offenses, as does New Jersey and California. In Texas, capital murder is it. So we don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact here because capital murder offenses are not that frequent.”
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