Texas currently has 19 state jails housing approximately 9,500 state-jail offenders. Under Penal Code Section 12.35, a person serving time for a state-jail felony may be punished for no more than 2 years, but not less than 180 days, with a fine of up to $10,000. Although the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure does not permit those serving time in state jail to earn credit for good conduct, it is possible for inmates to be awarded “diligent participation credit” and shave time off of their sentence.
Diligent participation includes “active involvement in a work program, successful completion of an educational, vocational, or treatment program, or progress toward successful completion of such a program if the progress was interrupted by illness, injury, or another circumstance outside of a participant’s control.”
The method of receiving diligent participation credit has recently changed. In the past, many individuals who participated in these programs were not receiving credit for their time due to a process that overburdened the courts. Prior to September 1, 2015, the process required the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to report an inmate’s participation to the judge of the sentencing court. The court would then have to review the record and make a decision to approve or deny the credits.
Not only was this a time-consuming process, but in 56 percent of the cases, the applications would never receive a response at all. Judges received hundreds of requests and were unable to devote the necessary time to review these applications. Although nearly 3 out of 4 applications that received a response were approved, too many applications never received a response and the inmates received no credit for their participation in these programs.
Effective September 1, 2015, the method to obtain Diligent Participation Credits was amended: Once a defendant is convicted of a state jail felony, the judge is to make a finding and enter into the judgment “whether the person is presumptively entitled to diligent participation credit.” See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 42.0119.
If the person is presumptively entitled, TDCJ will be required to record information detailing the number of days the inmate diligently participated in the appropriate programs and credit the time against the inmate’s sentence. As in the past, inmates will be unable to earn diligent participation credits for time under disciplinary status. For individuals who were presumptively entitled to credit, that credit will be awarded 45 days before the inmate reaches 80 percent of their sentence.
In cases where a judge does not find a person presumptively entitled, or if the person loses their diligent participation credit as a disciplinary sanction, a progress report will be sent to the judge for consideration. If the judge does not grant participation credit at that time, the inmate will serve their full sentence.
The passing of HB 1546 means that inmates in state jails have real incentives to participate in educational, vocational, treatment, and work programs. In too many cases in the past, obtaining Diligent Participation Credit took equal parts hard work and good luck. Now credit is awarded as it is earned.
Contact State Jail Diligent Participation Coordinator by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (936) 437-6562.
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