Although times vary, defendants convicted of a felony involving prison time usually stay in county jail for approximately 45 days before being moved to a TDCJ-ID intake facility.
There a numerous prison units across the state that an offender could expect reside in once they’ve been sentenced. Initially male inmates are sent to the Byrd Unit (Huntsville, TX), Holliday Unit (Huntsville, TX), or Garza West Unit (Beeville, TX) while female inmates are taken to Plane State Jail (Dayton, TX) and Woodman State Jail (Gatesville, TX) for intake.
At the intake unit, inmates are photographed, fingerprinted, medically screened and assigned a TDCJ number. Additionally, all tattoos will be documented and gang affiliation and membership will be questioned. An inmate’s parole eligibility date will also be calculated. Inmates can stay at one of these intake units for up to 2 years before being transferred to longer term housing. It’s important to note during the first three weeks an inmate is assigned to an intake unit he or she will unable to receive visitors and will not be allowed to make phone calls or access commissary.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is separate from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the prison system). The Board is made up of seven different board offices which handle parole cases from their respective geographic areas (Amarillo, Angleton, Austin, Gatesville, Huntsville, Palestine, and San Antonio). Each board consists of three voting members who review a prospective parolee’s file and vote individually on whether or not to grant parole. It’s important to note that the boards do not merely vote “yes” or “no” when it comes to the question of whether or not to grant parole. Instead, the board can vote to release an inmate immediately, to release the inmate at a specified date in the future, to release the inmate after completing a specified rehabilitative program (i.e. substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment, etc.), or to deny release.
When it comes to good conduct time, inmates are given a Line Class and Custody Classification. The rate at which an inmate accrues good conduct time is based on this classification level. Depending on their classification level, an inmate can accrue a maximum of 45 days of good conduct time. Inmates who have been in custody prior to moving to TDCJ-ID are eligible to receive 20 days of good conduct time for each month they have spent in custody. In addition to their Line Classification, inmates also receive a Custody Classification which determines where an offender can live, how much supervision they will need, and what jobs they can be assigned. Inmates may become ineligible for or lose good conduct time if they fail to follow rules while in prison.
Individuals convicted of a felony who are sentenced to prison may be eligible for what is called “shock probation”. Even after being found guilty and sentenced to prison, a district court retains jurisdiction over the case for a period of 180 days. During that 180-day time period, the court can reconsider the individual’s sentence and then place the person on probation if the court finds that the individual would not benefit from further imprisonment and the individual has never before been incarcerated for a felony. Not all offenses are covered by shock probation so a detailed review of the specific facts of the individual’s case as well as his or her criminal history are important. It's important to act quickly if an individual wants to ask the court for shock probation because once the 180-day time period expires the court has no jurisdiction to grant the request.
A deadly weapon is a firearm or anything that in its use or intended use causes or is capable of causing death. If a judge or a jury finds that a deadly weapon was used in the commission of a crime that finding may impact whether or not a person is eligible for probation and will make an individual ineligible for parole if he or she is sentenced to prison.
Unlike state court where an individual can receive a sentence anywhere within the statutory range of punishment, federal sentences are determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The sentencing guidelines cross-reference an individual’s criminal history category (based on their criminal history) and the offense level of the crime an individual is found guilty of to assign a narrow sentencing range that is considered appropriate. Depending on a number of mitigating or aggravating factors an individual's offense level (and therefore the sentence) can either go up or go down.
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, individuals convicted of an offense can receive a reduction in their sentence by cooperating and providing truthful and helpful information to the government. If the government determines that this information rises to the level of substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of a crime then the government can file a motion with the court asking the judge to sentence the individual below the normal sentencing guideline range. Substantial assistance is one of two ways (“safety valve” is the other) an individual can receive a sentence below a statute’s mandatory minimum sentence.