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Pandemic-Related Delays Fatal For Texas Prisoners Approved For Parole

A Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole office in Austin in 2014.
Jon Shapley for KUT News
A Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole office in Austin in 2014.

From Texas Standard:

Parole delays worsened during the pandemic, resulting in 42 Texas prisoners dying as they waited to be released according to new research from the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Right now there’s more than 10,000 Texas prisoners who have been approved for release or parole. Normally, it takes up to four months to release someone from a Texas prison once they’ve been approved for parole.

But in the new report “Dead Man Waiting: A brief profile of deaths in Texas prisons among people approved for parole release” 42 people approved for parole, died between March 2020 and March 2021, compared to 26 the previous year.

Michele Deitch, one of the report’s authors and a distinguished lecturer at the LBJ School and at the University of Texas School of Law, found longer release delays to be part of the problem.

“Even before COVID, people were remaining in Texas prisons for an average of three to four months after their parole approval,” Deitch told Texas Standard. “During the pandemic, the typical delay in release ranged from five to 11 months, with an average of about six months.”

Those approved for parole are often required to take pre-release instruction. In other state prisons, that instruction can take place at any time. But in Texas, it can only occur after the parole board approves a release, which automatically creates a delay. Add the pandemic and those delays doubled.

“Many of those programs had either been put on hold or were significantly delayed because of the pandemic,” Deitch said.

Many of those who died waiting for release – 18 people – died of COVID-19. But another 24 died of causes other than COVID-19.

Deitch said that these delays also cost taxpayers. She calculated that each day those people who are approved for release remain in prison, costs taxpayers $750,000 a day.

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