History of Parole in Texas
The first parole law was enacted by the Texas Legislature in 1905. That law gave power to the Board of Prison Commissioners and the Board of Pardons Advisors, with the approval of the Governor, to make rules and regulations under which certain meritorious prisoners might be paroled. Those who had served two years or one-fourth of their terms were eligible for parole, provided they were first-time offenders and had not been sentenced for certain offenses.
In 1911, legislation was passed which empowered the Board of Prison Commissioners alone to make rules and regulations, subject to the Governor’s approval, for the parole of prisoners. This law provided that meritorious prisoners were to be eligible for parole after having served the minimum terms fixed by statute for the crime and conviction. It also provided for a parole agent or supervisor to keep the state informed about the conduct of parolees. However, no system of supervision existed. In 1913, the addition of an indeterminate sentence law increased the use of parole and gave the Governor the sole power to grant paroles. The Board of Prison Commissioners still established rules and regulations under which prisoners could be paroled, but such rules and regulations had to be approved by the Governor.
In 1929, the Board of Pardons Advisors was revitalized by the Legislature and a third member added so as to create the Board of Pardons and Paroles with power to recommend prisoners for parole to the Governor as well as to advise on clemency matters. Parole applied only to those who had never before been convicted of a crime punishable by sentence to the penitentiary. This restriction was changed in 1930 and only those who had actually been in prison before became ineligible. In 1936, the Constitution was amended so as to create a constitutional three-member Board of Pardons and Paroles. The amendment gave the Board authority to recommend paroles and all acts of clemency to the Governor (however, the Governor could grant one 30-day capital reprieve without such recommendation), and the Governor was given sole power to revoke paroles and conditional pardons. This act may be said to be the birthplace of parole in Texas.
Parole was to be recommended only if the Board was of the opinion that the prisoner was not incompatible with the welfare of society. The Board was empowered to prescribe conditions of parole and was required to furnish a written copy of such conditions to the parolee. The parolee did not have to have a job to be paroled; but, if offered one, he had to accept. He was not to leave the state without the Board’s consent. He was required to support his dependents, make restitution for his crime and abandon evil associates and ways. Upon release from prison, a parolee was given a suit of clothing, two suits of underwear, $5.00, and a railroad ticket to the place of his conviction.
While there were no parole officers, a supervisor of parolees was provided to keep records of parolees; and, if they lapsed into criminal ways or violated any condition of parole, the matter was to be reported to the Governor, who could issue a warrant for the retaking of the prisoner. After his return to prison, the Board was required to hold a hearing to consider the case of the parole violator. A parole violator was required to serve the balance of his maximum sentence calculated from the date of his delinquency. Therefore, the time spent on parole counted as time served on his sentence until parole was revoked. A violator who committed a new offense while on parole was required to serve the balance of his original sentence before beginning to serve the new sentence.
In 1937, the Governor called for the formation of voluntary parole boards. These boards consisted of citizens of the state who performed supervisory services to parolees without compensation. Prior to this time, no actual supervision of parolees was possible since only one supervisor of parolees was provided in the law. Voluntary parole supervisors were appointed in 242 of 254 counties in Texas. They assisted parolees in obtaining jobs and required them to make reports.
The Adult Probation and Parole Law enacted by the 50th Legislature in 1947 established the general framework for how community supervision (probation) and parole operate today. Prior to 1947, parole releases from prison were actually executive clemency and were called conditional pardons or executive paroles. However, since no additional funds for parole operation were appropriated in the 1947 Legislature, supervision of those released on parole or conditional pardon was entirely by the volunteer parole boards.
Many changes continued over the years, leading eventually to the establishment of the current composition of the Board of Pardons and Paroles (7 Board Members and 14 Commissioners). Until September 1, 1989, in addition to parole decisions, the Board was also responsible for the operations of the parole supervision system. When the Legislature merged the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Texas Adult Probation Commission, and the Texas Department of Corrections into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Board maintained its authority over parole decisions, but the TDCJ Parole Division assumed the other parole-related responsibilities.
The Parole Division Director is appointed by the TDCJ Executive Director and is responsible for the administration and operation of the division.