Should certain inmates in Texas prisons be eligible for early parole if they exhibit good behavior or complete certain educational programs? Texas lawmakers are considering a bill, House Bill 1064, that would give prisoners earned time credit for good conduct.
Those in favor say measures like these are needed to rehabilitate prisoners. But others have concerns about the potential for violent offenders to be released early.
Miltonette Craig, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the story above or listen to the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Professor, before we get into the nuts and bolts of House Bill 1064, I guess I, like maybe others, thought that that’s kind of what parole is all about. You get time off for good conduct. How would this bill change things?
Miltonette Craig: What it would do, as proposed, is that individuals would be eligible for parole earlier than is standard. So generally speaking, in Texas, someone could be eligible for parole at the point where they have served 50% of their sentence. And of course, that differs depending on the seriousness of the crime. But that’s the general rule. And with HB 1064, it could be that someone is eligible for parole at about 25% of their sentence. So it doesn’t change the sentence in and of itself. It just allows individuals the opportunity to come up for parole.
To get credit for that good conduct applied to time served, I guess, is sort of the way?
And then the same thing for education if you complete certain educational programs. So let’s talk about what proponents and opponents are saying about this. First, the proponents. Why do they say that this is needed in Texas now?
So the proponents agree with what you said before, the ability to basically reward someone for their good behavior and allow them the philosophical opportunity for redemption. So they’re taking advantage of programing behind bars, which can also include, in addition to educational programing, things like vocations or learning about agricultural trades or even treatment programs for those who were involved in substance abuse.
So the idea is to make the person a greater contributor to society as a whole, I guess is the sort of the theory.
Exactly. And as Rep. (Carl) Sherman was saying, as he explained why he proposed the legislation, he said people should be allowed to make the best of their time while they’re incarcerated.
What is it that opponents say about this measure?
So opponents have been definitely talking about the potential for this bill allowing violent offenders back on the street. And so when you look at things cut and dry, a little bit of it makes sense, you know, just because some of the people who would be eligible for parole at the 25% mark are indeed individuals who’ve committed violent crimes. But it’s not cut and dry, as some of the opposition has said. It just again, allows someone to come up for parole earlier – doesn’t guarantee that they will be granted parole because ultimately the board is who decides whether that person is a low enough risk and, again, entitled to the opportunity at redemption.
What about experience in other states? Do other states have similar programs and, if so, how’s it been working?
Yes. So about 30 other states in the U.S. have some form of earned time credit or good time credit for incarcerated individuals, as well as the federal government. And so it operates in the same way that HB 1064 is saying. The model is there, it’s just a little different state by state.
But what does the data say about whether these programs actually work? And I think a lot of people are looking at the recidivism, you know, line there.
Exactly. So to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a full scale empirical study that looks at the effect of good time credit itself on recidivism. What does exist, though, is research almost like an indirect effect. So the consensus in empirical research says that for individuals who take part in educational programing while they’re incarcerated, it does indeed reduce their likelihood of recidivism, and that counts as reconviction as well as reimprisonment.