Texas’ prisons were dangerous places before COVID-19 swept through them in 2020 and 2021. The coronavirus killed hundreds, including some inmates who should have been released months earlier.

A new report has found at least 18 people who had already been granted parole died with COVID-19 before they could leave prison.

The new study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs highlights unnecessary deaths in lock-ups during the pandemic. It describes how a “troubling number of people” in Texas prisons and jails are dying in custody before they even leave the prison gates.

While at least 18 people who had already been granted parole died of COVID in prisons and jails, the problem goes beyond the pandemic. The report found at least 26 people died behind bars in 2019 after they were granted parole, the Texas Tribune reported.

The article highlighted the alarming extent to which prisoners who have been granted release often remain locked up. In April 2021, about 10,800 people held in Texas prisons had already been granted parole, according to figures held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. This accounts for 9% of the total prison population. The Tribune noted at least a quarter of these inmates had been granted parole as long as six months earlier. Nearly 900 people had been waiting more than a year.

The Tribune noted these numbers are not unusual. Thousands of people are held in the Lone Star State’s prisons at any given time after a positive parole decision. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requires the majority of  prisoners to undergo additional rehabilitation or education programs before their parole release, which can last from three to 18 months, the Tribune noted.

Although some programs are related to an inmate’s conviction such as alcohol or drug rehabilitation, many of the programs are generic in nature and related to life skills.

The situation was exacerbated during the pandemic when classes were postponed, the report noted. An average wait for release of three or four months increased to six months, with some delays stretching to 11 months.

Eleven people who succumbed to COVID-19 behind bars had been approved for parole more than a year earlier.

Family members and prisoner advocates have called for educational and rehabilitation programs to be held outside the walls of prisons, in safer environments. We have previously noted the many dangers in Texas’ jails and prisons including extreme heat.

Many people who end up in jails are locked up for minor charges. It is important to avoid incarceration, if possible, post-arrest. Our experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers will do everything in our power to keep you or a family member out of prison or jail. Please call us at (214) 720-9552.