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Parole is not available to an inmate sentenced for any crime, including drug crimes, committed after November 1, 1987. There are still inmates serving “old law” sentences who are eligible — or might one day become eligible — for parole, but their numbers are dwindling.
As part of federal sentencing “reform” in the mid-1980s, parole was replaced by supervised release. The two concepts work in very different ways. Parole is early release from a sentence. An inmate who committed no misconduct during his or her term of imprisonment could generally count on being released on parole before reaching the end of his or her sentence. The date of release fell somewhere between the date the inmate became eligible for parole and the date of mandatory release (the date on which the sentence ended, less credit for good time.)
The exact date of release was decided by the Parole Commission. An inmate released on parole was subject to supervision in the community and was required to obey a set of rules that a parole officer would enforce. Parole generally ended on the date the sentence was scheduled to end.
“Good Time” and Supervised Release
Unlike parole, supervised release does not begin until the inmate has completed the sentence. Defendants who are sentenced to prison, therefore, serve the entire sentence. Although, inmates who are sentenced to a term longer than one year receive credit for “good time.”
Calculating “good time” can be difficult and courts are not always in agreement as to how it should be calculated, but in most cases inmates receive “good time” credit of 54 days for each year they serve. The practical result of good time credit is that most inmates serve about 87 percent of their sentence before reaching their release date.
After their release, defendants begin a term of supervised release. The term of supervised release is imposed by the sentencing court at the time the prison sentence is imposed. The maximum term of supervised release that the court can impose depends upon the maximum length of the sentence that applies to the offense of conviction. Generally, terms of supervised release range from one year to five years. Some crimes carry mandatory minimum terms of supervised release.
A defendant who is on supervised release must report to a U.S. Probation Officer. Conditions of supervised release are imposed by the court at the time of sentencing. In a drug case, a requirement of random or regular drug testing is typically imposed. The court might also require a defendant to maintain lawful employment, to avoid known drug users, and to permit home inspections as deemed necessary by the probation officer, among many other conditions.
A defendant who violates a condition of supervised release can be detained and, after a hearing, returned to prison for a period of time. Representation by an experienced attorney at the hearing can sometimes result in an alternative to additional incarceration.
Probation is not a typical disposition for federal drug crimes, although it is often imposed for convictions of simple possession and regulatory offenses. In cases that carry a mandatory minimum sentence, the court has no authority to impose probation. In other drug cases, the court has the authority to impose probation even if a prison term is recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines.
A defendant who is placed on probation must abide by a set of conditions for a specified period of time. In a drug case, those conditions will typically include regular or random drug testing. Other conditions may include a requirement to maintain lawful employment, to avoid association with known drug users, and to permit home inspections as deemed necessary by the probation officer. A period of home detention or of community confinement (typically in a halfway house or a residential treatment facility) can also be imposed as a condition of probation.
Other Sentencing Alternatives
If a defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, instead of imposing a fine or a sentence of incarceration the judge can send the defendant to a treatment facility for not more than 90 days. The court has that authority only if:
- The conviction was for a Class A or B misdemeanor;
- The offense resulted from the defendant’s chemical dependency;
- An approved treatment facility is available;
- The facility agrees to admit the defendant; and
- The defendant is not mentally ill.
A court can authorize a defendant who has been sentenced to jail to serve all or part of that sentence as “house arrest.” If that occurs, the defendant participates in an electronic monitoring program rather than serving time in jail.
If the court imposes a sentence to be served in a county jail, or if it imposes jail confinement as a condition of community supervision, it can authorize the confinement to be served during nonworking hours. The judge can attach conditions regarding the defendant’s employment, travel, or hours of release that are permitted during the working day. The court can also authorize release from jail to obtain medical, mental health, or substance abuse treatment.
Unless a sentence of confinement was imposed by a jury, a judge can order the defendant to perform community service in lieu of serving part or all of a jail sentence. Community service can be combined with work release.
Steps to Take if Accused
If you are at risk of being sentenced to jail or prison for a Texas drug crime, you need to have a skilled drug defense lawyer who can argue for alternatives to incarceration. To discuss options that might be available in your case, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney at Texas Criminal Defense Group.