Amazingly, some lawyers make presentations before the Board without ever meeting their clients. Some lawyers send junior associates or paralegals to the prison unit for the interview. Although a friend or family member hired the attorney, the inmate is the one whose fate will hinge upon the decision the attorney hopes to affect. It is difficult to understand how one can effectively represent an inmate without spending time with him. The interview should include a complete personal and social history of the inmate that would include information regarding his family, his educational background, his employment history, marital history and a complete medical and psychological history.
It is important to know whether the inmate has committed a major disciplinary offense, which resulted in a loss of good conduct time or a loss of class status below that at which the inmate entered into TDCJ custody. The current entry status is a Line Class I. If the disciplinary offenses occurred during the six months prior to the inmate being reviewed for parole, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles policy requires that the inmate receive a parole set-off of at least one year. If the inmate has less than one year remaining before mandatory release, they may not be paroled and will not be released until their mandatory release date, or if not eligible for mandatory release, they will serve until the completion of their sentence.
The attorney should inquire as to whether the client refused to participate in any programs recommended in that inmate’s Individualized Treatment Plan (ITP). Examples of programs are GED classes, vocational studies, Substance Abuse or Sex Offenders Treatment Programs. If, in fact, the inmate did refuse to participate in a program that TDCJ determined would be beneficial, and for which he was eligible, that inmate will be denied parole. However, if TDCJ records show a refusal and your client denies ever having refused any program, further investigation may show that he did not know that he refused a program or that the records are in error. One might discover that the inmate did not participate because he had already accomplished the goal of the program or was physically unable to do so. Any of these situations are well worth the attorney’s time and effort to clarify and correct in the client’s file. Failure to do so may result in an inmate serving additional prison time due to erroneous information.
The attorney should obtain release of information authority from the inmate so that materials can be obtained from prison files, from attorney who have represented the inmate in the past, and from doctors, hospitals or therapist who may have previously treated the inmate.
Besides the inmate, the inmate’s family, and his friends, there are other sources of information that can help an attorney develop a complete dossier on the client. One must know the negative aspects of the case as well as the positive aspects in order to provide proper representation. Rest assured the Board panel will know most of the unpleasant aspects of the inmate. The attorney never wants to be surprised at the presentation.
After the attorney has gathered all documentation, questionnaires, support letters and completed the interviews, he is prepared to develop a theme that best portrays the inmate to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The picture he paints will create an image for Board members of a complete person who has used the tools available to him in prison to rehabilitate himself, and who can be released into society with a reasonable expectation that he will behave responsibly and become a productive citizen.