Doing Time – It’s What You Make of It

Original Intent of Website

Huntsville Prison. Huntsville, Texas

While this website was originally conceived to assist people who were further along in their sentence and preparing for parole, we quickly realized decisions made at the very beginning of the incarceration would have effects on the length of the actual time. First, we’re going to take a few paragraphs to discuss the changes in the Texas prison system and the numbers involved and then why that is important.

Good Time Credit in Prison

Everyone is likely familiar with the concept of “good time”, which is a type of reward given to prisoners who stay out of trouble and cooperate with the system. This can mean doing a job while in the facility (local jail or state prison), going to classes required by the facility, or getting a GED, etc.  In exchange for the person doing what they’re told while in custody, they receive credit for extra days. The local facility will give these good time credits based on the jail administrator’s rules. For example, many local jails give 3 for 1 credit for trustees, meaning that if a prisoner makes trustee not only do they get less time inside the cell but they may also be allowed to become a cook (a preferred job in jail since you get extra amounts to eat), go outside to do maintenance at a local government facilities (and being outside is preferred to remaining in a cell 24 hours a day), pick up trash on the side of the road, or other similar tasks.

The good time awarded by the jail facility is carried over to the TDCJ and after that the time varies but is usually 2 for 1 or 3 for 1.

Where this really comes into play is for parole eligibility purposes since on a non-aggravated offense a prisoner is eligible to be considered for parole when the time served plus any good time credits equals 25% of the sentence.

On an aggravated offense (also known as a 3g offense, called this due to the code section which established the rule), a person becomes eligible to be considered for parole after they have done 50% of their sentence without good time credit being considered. In other words, if a prisoner was sentenced to ten years on a 3g offense, they won’t be eligible to even be considered for parole until they have been incarcerated for 5 years. However, accumulating “good time”, or at least not getting into more trouble,  can make a difference in whether the parole is actually granted.

Texas’s New Approach to the Criminal Justice System

Texas has been working on a different approach to criminal justice than the hard line stance it used to embrace.

When the “War on Drugs” was in full swing in the 1990s and 2000s, the rate of prisoners increased by 346% from about 50,000 inmates in 1990 to about 173,000 in 2010. This is in contrast to the rest of the U.S. where the rate doubled. With these extra prisoners, the costs of incarceration rose along with the need for additional housing. The estimates to handle the housing alone was in the neighborhood of $523 million. Instead, three legislators got together and developed a treatment system for about half of the amount needed under the “lock ’em up” style of justice Texas had been practicing.

Amazingly, the new system worked, and prisoner numbers began to decline as did the crime rate. The number of prisoners had dropped to 168,00 in 2013 and down to around 142,000 by early 2018. More on the actual numbers and steps taken by the state can be found in this 2014 article by the Washington Post.

Recidivism and its Effect on Parole

A word that is thrown around a lot when discussing prisoners and the criminal justice system is “recidivism”, which Texas defines it as as a return to criminal or delinquent activity after previous criminal or delinquent involvement. The word and numbers are extremely important when the legislature and the system considers the numbers for people who have been incarcerated at least once. The good news is that the changes made in the system has reduced the rate from 28 % before the reform was enacted to 22.6 % by 2014. The hopes are, of course, that various changes in the system will allow that number to continue to decline.

As set forth in our book, How to Prepare a Texas Parole Packet, the Parole Guidelines Score (a calculation made based on a variety of factors) is intended to assign a value to the potential parolee’s likelihood of recidivism. Therefore, any actions the incarcerated individual can take to better their score increases the chances of parole being granted. When the guidelines score is being calculated, the “static factors” are clearly centered around the likelihood to re-offend. While the “Dynamic Factors” focus more on what the individual has done to better themselves while in prison.

Engaging in conduct likely to grant the good time credits affects the first three of the 5 dynamic factors:

  1. Education, vocational, and certified on-the-job training programs completed during the present incarceration
  2. Prison disciplinary conduct
  3. Current prison custody level
  4. Offender’s current age
  5. Whether the offender is a confirmed security threat group (gang) member

Classes While Incarcerated

Obtaining Good Time Credit is why we encourage any offender entering the prison system to immediately begin taking classes, whether they be the type of classes taught in a high school (ex. math or history), vocational classes where the offender learns a marketable skill (ex. television repair, culinary arts, landscaping, etc.), or if they do not have a high school diploma then the prisoner should speak with the unit’s counselor about taking the classes necessary to obtain a GED. While classes are limited, depending on what unit the offender is in, the Texas Department of criminal justice has its own school system the Windham School District.

As we discuss in How to Prepare a Texas Parole Packet, any type of classes the offender can take, even the bible study classes offered at most unit prisons, will assist in showing the voting members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole that the offender is taking affirmative steps to improve themselves while incarcerated. In addition, many of the issues which arise during the sentence are caused by too much free time which increases the chances of  getting into trouble so using the time constructively serves several purposes.

Tool to Help Prepare Texas Parole Packet would like to help you create a clear, organized, and well-written parole packet. Our book, How To Prepare A Texas Parole Packet, provides step-by-step instructions on completing a comprehensive parole packet. How to Prepare a Texas Parole Package is filled with easy to understand explanations and forms, including sample support letters, with each section of the book. How to Prepare a Texas Parole Package is available as a downloadable e-book in PDF format or as a bundle containing both a printed book (which can be mailed to an inmate) and also a downloadable PDF. The bundle will allow both the offender and someone on the outside to work together to prepare the packet.

About the Author

Lawyer X
Lawyer X is the pen name of a former attorney who now spends all of his time writing and consulting. While in practice he was involved in both criminal and civil trials across the United States, including picking or helping to pick juries in hundreds of civil and criminal cases. In addition to his work as a trial lawyer, Lawyer X wrote articles, lectured at continuing legal education seminars, and was active in the legal community in many ways. He maintains anonymity now so that he can provide knowledge from inside and express honest opinions and viewpoints that other members of the legal community would just as soon weren't shared.