Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles:
An Inventory of Board of Pardons and Paroles Minutes and Agenda at the Texas State Archives, 1971, 1973-2005
The executive clemency process — pardoning convicts, giving executive paroles, granting furloughs, commuting sentences, etc.— was a function given to the governor under the Constitution of the State of Texas, Article IV, Section 11. The Board of Pardon Advisors was created in 1893 (Senate Bill 19, 23rd Texas Legislature, Regular Session) to assist the governor with these executive clemency functions. The Board of Pardon Advisors was composed of two individuals chosen by the governor, who assisted him by reviewing applications and making recommendations for executive clemency. The board was able to review more applications and examine these more thoroughly than the governor was able to do, which resulted in more pardons being granted. Over the years, several pieces of legislation were enacted which reduced the exclusive power of the governor in this process. In 1905, the legislature allowed the seperate State Penitentiary Board to begin granting paroles to meritorious convicts (Senate Bill 11, 29th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1910, the name of the State Penitentiary Board was changed to the Board of Prison Commissioners (Senate Bill 10, 31st Legislature, 4th Called Session), in 1927 to the Texas Prison Board (House Bill 59, 40th Legislature, Regular Session), and again in 1957 to the Texas Board of Corrections (Senate Bill 42, 55th Legislature, Regular Session). The Board of Corrections operated within the Texas Department of Corrections.
In 1929, legislation (House Bill 20, 41st Legislature, 1st Called Session) changed the name of the Board of Pardon Advisors to the Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP). The new board was expanded to add another member — all still appointed by the governor. The governor also appointed a chairman of the board. The board designated a member to serve as the Supervisor of Paroles, whose duties included compiling a list of all convicts eligible for parole, studying prisoners being considered for parole, securing employment (if possible) for parolees, and keeping a record of parolees. The board also gathered information regarding the cases, kept pre-parole records, maintained a register of cases acted upon, and made recommendations to the governor regarding the disposition of clemency applications. This law also detailed all aspects of the parole system, including who could be paroled, reasons and methods for release, conditions of parole, violations of parole, retaking parole violators, felonies committed while on parole, discharge from parole, records kept, and other items.
In 1935, the legislature placed restrictions on the governor's pardoning power and changed the appointment of the board (Senate Joint Resolution 26, 44th Legislature, Regular Session). The board was still composed of three members, but only one was appointed by the governor. One was appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the other by the presiding justice of the Court of Civil Appeals, all subject to confirmation by the senate. Only the governor could grant pardons and reprieves, commute sentences, and remit fines and forfeitures only with the written signed recommendation of the legislature. The governor could still grant a reprieve in capital punishment cases, not to exceed thirty days, and had the power to revoke paroles and conditional pardons.
In 1947, the Adult Probation and Parole Law was enacted (House Bill 120, 50th Legislature, Regular Session). This law authorized the BPP, with approval of the governor, to release any prisoners for parole or probation, with the exception of those under a death sentence. This law replaced the former parole laws and became the statute which governed parole actions. In 1957, the name of the Texas Prison Board was changed to the Texas Board of Corrections, and a Division for Parole Supervisors was established to open up district offices across the state to monitor parolees (House Bill 42, 55th Legislature, Regular Session). The board received further assistance with its parole duties with the creation of the Texas Parole Commission in 1975 (Senate Bill 240, 64th Legislature, Regular Session). This commission was composed of six parole commissioners with decision-making authority in parole matters and was designated to assist the board with some parole functions.
In 1983, the structure of the BPP changed again, when the legislature increased the board to six members, all appointed by the governor with approval and consent of the senate. The BPP continued to receive assistance from the Texas Parole Commission with parole decisions and mandatory supervision revocation decisions (Senate Bill 396, 68th Legislature, Regular Session).
In 1989, the legislature created the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to consolidate the various criminal justice functions in state government into one agency, with the BPP becoming a division of the new agency (House Bill 2335, 71st Legislature, Regular Session). This legislation also transfered administrative tasks of the BPP to the TDCJ so the role of each BPP board member would be that of decision maker. This also allowed the BPP to focus on training its members and on pardon and parole procedures. The BPP reported its activities to the TDCJ board. In 1997, the BPP policy board, comprising of six members of the BPP board, was created to adopt rules relating to the decision-making processes used by the BPP and parole panels; establish caseloads for members of the BPP and assign duties; update parole guidelines and assign precedential value to previous decisions; require members of the board to file activity reports that illustrate the use of parole guidelines by members of the board; and report at least annually to the governor and the legislature on BPP activities, parole release decisions, and the use of parole guidelines (House Bill 1386, 75th Legislature, Regular Session). From 1997 to 2001, questions arose on the efficiency of BPP. In 1999, the legislature reduced size of the BPP board from 18 to six, with one member designated as the chair of the BPP and its policy board, and redefined the mission of the BPP (House Bill 1649, 77th Legislature, Regular Session).
The functions of the BPP are the administration of the state-wide parole system (Article 42.18, Code of Criminal Procedure) and investigating acts of executive clemency by the governor (Texas Constitution, Article IV, Section 11, and Code of Criminal Procedure). Executive clemency includes reprieves of executions, commutation of sentences, full and conditional pardons, restoration of civil rights and citizenship, trial reprieves of all jail sentences, medical emergency reprieves, remission of bond forfeiture, and restoration of drivers licenses. Parole functions include determining prisoners to be paroled, establishing conditions of parole, investigating and supervising prisoners on parole, conducting parole revocation hearings, and establishing parole policies. Paroles are issued by orders of the board. Executive clemency acts still require the affirmative action of the BPP and the governor before an action can be taken.
Board members must be representative of the general public. To be eligible, a person must be a resident of Texas and have resided in Texas the two years prior to his or her appointment. A person is not eligible to serve on the BPP if a person or his or her spouse is employed by or participates in the management of a business entity or other organization receiving funds from the TCDJ or the board; owns or controls directly or indirectly more than a 10 percent interest in a business entity or other organization regulated by the department or receiving funds from the department or the board; or uses or receives a substantial amount of tangible goods, services, or funds from the department or the board, other than compensation or reimbursement authorized by law for board membership, attendance, or expenses. Each member of the BPP is appointed to six-year terms by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate.
(Sources include: Guide to Texas State Agencies, 11th ed. (2001); Handbook of Texas Online, Paul M. Lucko, "Board of Pardons and Paroles;" the BPP's website (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/bpp/); The Texas Department of Criminal Justice website (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/), all accessed October 27, 2015; and the records themselves.)
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) decides which eligible offenders to release on parole or discretionary mandatory supervision as well as recommends clemency decisions to the governor. Records consist of minutes, agenda, and attachments from the BPP and its policy board's meetings, dating 1971, 1973-2005. Attachments include presentation notes and slides, sample forms, correspondence and memorandums, reports, case and parole summaries, invitation for bids, hearings, copies of agreements and contracts, and copies of proposed criminal justice legislation. Subjects document the development and details of parole criteria and procedures (and to a lesser extent the pardon process), operation of the BPP, proposed rule changes, training needs of board members, and the relationship between BPP with state prison administrators and other corrections entities as well as larger criminal justice trends such as recommending parole after the classification of a specific offense changed (i.e. the seriousness of a specific offense is reduced by legislation), pressure to alleviate overcrowding in response to Ruiz v. Estelle, civil rights of offenders, education of the general public on the goals of the parole process, creation of pre-release arrangements that include probation or supervision, needs and treatment of handicapped offenders, and development of programs to help reintegrate the recently-paroled into general public (e.g. half-way houses, support groups, education and vocational programs, and employment assistance). Agenda inform the public as to what will be discussed and decided at each meeting. Minutes document in a thorough but summary fashion the official actions of the board in its meetings. Meeting minutes are filed along with the agenda and attachments for a specific date as opposed to being filed when the minutes were approved. Attachments and agenda may not be present for every meeting, especially those in bound volumes.
By rule the BPP must meet at least quarterly at a site determined by its chair. The BPP may meet more frequently at the call of the chair. In the 1970s and 1980s the BPP often met more than once a month. In the 1990s it became more prohibitive financially to meet this frequently and the BPP began to met significantly less than in previous decades. From 1997 to 2002, the BPP's policy board met more than board at-large. Often board members not on the policy board would attend these meetings.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
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(Identify the item), Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles minutes and agenda. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1998/167, 2004/179, 2007/135, 2011/088, 2015/209
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Legislative Reference Library on June 11, 1998; June 23, 2004; March 19, 2007; September 14, 2010; and December 13, 2012 (and assigned an accession number for control purposes August 18, 2015).
Processed by Anna M. Reznik, October 2015
Additions to the minutes are transferred to the State Archives by the Legislative Reference Library on a regular basis.
The record copies of meeting agenda and minutes are maintained by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Detailed Description of the Records