The Key to Effective Parole Presentation:
Planning and Organization
The awarding of parole to an offender in Texas often appears to be completely random. Two individuals, each with nearly identical cases and history, can receive wildly different results.
Unfortunately, the decision on who makes parole can be based on something as simple as whether the voting members of the parole board “have a bad day”.
The volume of cases voted on in any given month is tremendous and some estimates are that each file is subjected to an average review of 3-5 minutes.
It is this tremendous volume that makes it so important for the potential parolee to make an effort to distinguish their file (in a good way) from the hundred, or thousands of others under review.
The most important thing that can be done to improve the chances of parole is to influence the basic human nature of the voters by “humanizing” the potential parolee.
“Humanize: 1 a: to represent as human: attribute human qualities to; b: to adapt to human nature or use. 2: to make humane.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
The first way to humanize the potential parolee is through the use of photographs. Typically, the only visual representations of the person contained in the parole file are “mug shots” or photos taken when the offender first enters the prison system. These are taken within hours of their head being shaved (in the case of males) and typically after long periods without sunshine or adequate rest, resulting in a photograph that makes the person look like someone who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets.
The parole packet we will create for you will include a number of photographs along with captions, including a photograph on the cover page, which should be of you alone, and be the best possible photograph you have available. The others in the package should show you at work or home, interacting with other people, including family members. The “caption” below each photo should explain who is in the picture along with what was happening at the time.
Be sure that the photographs do not show anyone, particularly you, engaging in or conducting activity the panel may feel is inappropriate. It would not be wise to include photographs of anyone with drug paraphernalia, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or wearing any clothing depicting these.
The parole packet will start with a cover letter, briefly stating who the parole package is for, what documents are enclosed and a short statement. The cover letter is from you and addressed to the members of the parole board.
The next page of the parole packet will be the cover page of the packet itself. The information on this page will be brief: just the name, identification number, and your photograph. It is designed solely to catch the attention of the panel and encourage them to look further in the package, thus simplicity is the key.
The next page of the packet will be a Table of Contents, with the items being identified by page number and/or an appendix number. The key here is often a simple yet interesting synopsis of the contents along with the “key” to finding the item quickly if it catches a board member’s attention.
The next portion of the packet is your Parole Plan. The Parole Plan is a short (one page) yet comprehensive explanation of what you plan to do when parole is granted. The information should include:
- Where you plan to live.
- The names and relationship of everyone residing at the address where you will live.
- The other occupant’s ages, education level, employment, and how they will support you in your parole.
- Your employment plans.
- Explain how family and friends are available and the role they will play in supporting you.
- A one paragraph essay about why you should be paroled and any changes you have made in your life.
Many believe the parole packet should contain the information from the Parole Guideline Level which consists of the Risk Assessment Scoring and Offense Security Level. If this information is favorable then we will use it. However, if the Parole Guideline Score is low, the use of it may be counter-productive.
The parole packet will include a page with a description of all education you have received while incarcerated, whether it be college, GED, or vocational courses.
Along with the description, we will also include all certificates or diplomas. This is thought to be particularly strong evidence for parole as statistics show education lowers the chances of someone returning to prison. In addition, education demonstrates not only an ability to follow a plan but also that an effort is being made to improve one’s position in life. On this same page we will list the description of any work done while in prison. This is beneficial so that the parole board knows you have additional skills to rely on in the event the anticipated job does not work out. A one-page resume of job history from the free world as well as from prison may assist the parole board in determining whether you have marketable job skills.
Next, if you have a number of support letters, we will make a page of excerpts, simple one or two line statements from any support letters that are particularly strong, identifying the letters these are taken from by name so if the parole board wants to read further the letter will be easy to find.
Support letters are very important. These can be from family, friends or employers. They should be from individuals who know you personally and explain how they know you, how they will support you and why they feel parole is appropriate in this particular case.
A support letter is evidence that you will have a network of family and friends to provide financial, emotional and other support, when you are released.
Support letters show:
- People who care for you
- How you have improved and will not commit the crime again
- Someone is available to provide help when you are released.
- Your good side, which counter balances against the bad things contained in the parole file.
It is generally thought that four to six support letters are enough and any more than that may dilute the effect. If you choose to have more than four then the page of excerpts discussed earlier is particularly important.
One of the support letters should be from you yourself. It should tell your “side of the story”, accepting responsibility for your crime and explaining why and how you have rehabilitated.
The final section should contain pictures of you with your family. These pictures are designed to humanize you so you are not just a number. Provide pictures of you interacting with your family but make sure you do not provide any pictures that could be offensive or include activities that are illegal.
The parole packet will be typed and carefully checked for spelling and grammatical errors. We will send two copies of your parole packet to you or, if instructed, directly to the panel dealing with your parole review in an attractive presentation folder by certified mail (additional charges will apply), with a copy to you. However, please note that it is likely that you will not be allowed by TDCJ to receive the folder itself, merely the documentary contents.
If the first attempt at parole is unsuccessful, we can update the packet as additional materials become available in preparation for the next parole review (reduced fees apply).
If required, we will also provide you with a form addressed to the Parole Board requesting your family appearance before the Board of Pardons and Paroles, with or without legal counsel on your behalf.