Sunday, February 25, 2007

In response to questions from families with a loved one nearing their parole date

For whatever reason, probably because my recent Rissie Owens Watch (she's the chair of the state board of pardons and parole, see here, here, and here) I've received quite a few private emails recently asking advice about a relative's particular parole case. I'm flattered you'd think I could help you, but the truth is I probably couldn't, and anyway am in no position personally to do so.

On these and other inmate-related questions let me suggest you start by looking at the ACLU of Texas' Prisoners Resource Guide. I also recommend Jorge Renaud's "Behind the Walls: A guide for families and friends of Texas prison inmates." Jorge is a resident himself at TDCJ's state hotel. He's a good writer, an able poet, in fact, and was a friend of mine back in the day before the unhappy turn of events that gave him the expertiese to write that book.

Just to have said it, let me reiterate for newer readers that I am not a lawyer, I cannot help you answer legal questions, and in particular I have little or no first-hand knowledge of the parole system to help with your friend or relative's case. Please don't ask me to, so I won't have to tell you "no."

However, let me also reassure you you're not alone struggling with this question, though nobody's telling you it'll be easy, either. The Texas Inmate Family Association website has a helpful page on Parole and Re-Entry, and local chapter meetings all over the state. On their website they've also posted this presentation from TDCJ explaining in quite a bit of detail the intricacies of the parole process as it stands today, for good or ill. Here's an even more extensive backgrounder from TDCJ on the Texas parole process.

With that said, proceed with caution. Get recommendations from others who've been through the process about whether or not to hire a lawyer before throwing your money away. Check references of your attorney's past clients. Last May in the Austin Statesman Mike Ward did a fine story about rampant fraud by some attorneys purporting to represent families of parole candidates who took a lot of money and did virtually nothing, so be really careful. It's now offline, but I blogged about it here, Stand Down has more here.

Here's a couple of common questions I get with simple answers: Find inmate information here, and check here to find out where a particular unit is located and which ones are managed by private contractors.

There aren't a lot of services for children of incarcerated parents, which in my opinion is a recipe for near-unmitigated disaster. However, if you're looking for a mentor for a child of an incarcerated parent, or to become one, try the Big Brother Big Sister Amachi Texas program. It's a start, but too often kids can't access more services until they've gotten into fairly significant trouble with the law.

I know some people complain about Project RIO but it's the only public jobs program for ex-prisoners I know of. Here's TDCJ's ridiculously minimalist web page on re-entry services. (Actually, if you know of other resources to help prisoners find jobs, please leave the information in the comments.)

Since I am not a lawyer (hereafter, IANAL), I also cannot credibly recommend one to you. Go here and here for links to Texas attorney referrals. Also, I no longer work for or with ACLU of Texas and cannot help you contact them. Here's the information on that group's case selection criteria and how to contact them.

That's about it, just to answer several questions that came up in recent similar emails all at a whack. Like I said, let me know about any additional resources by email or in the comments and I'll add them to the list.

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