Frequently used acronyms:
Abbreviations used in relation to the criminal legal system in Texas
TDCJ – The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, also known as the state prison system. It is overseen by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which consists of nine members appointed by the Governor for staggered six-year terms.
TJJD – Texas Juvenile Justice Department, which runs facilities for kids aged 16 and under.
TCOLE – Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the regulatory agency for law enforcement in Texas. This includes sheriffs, constables, and police, along with deputies.
TPA – Texas Probation Association, which represents and provides resources for probation professionals. They also lobby at the legislature.
TCJS – Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the regulatory agency for county jails and privately operated municipal jails in Texas. TCJS establishes standards for jail construction and conditions, and it monitors jail facilities to ensure these standards are met.
DFPS – Department of Family and Protective Services, which investigates allegations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation against children, elderly people, and people with disabilities.
DA – District Attorney, an elected prosecutor in a county. The DA’s office prosecutes felony cases in criminal court, investigates criminal cases, and presents cases to a grand jury. District Attorneys also have the power to represent victims of family violence and remove children from households. Some Texas counties have a District Attorney and a County Attorney, while in other counties, the DA serves in both roles. More information is available here.
DPS – Department of Public Safety, Texas’ state agency in charge of statewide law enforcement. The agency is overseen by the Public Safety Commission and also regulates driving and vehicles.
SAFP – Substance Abuse Felony Punishment facilities, Texas’ in-prison substance use treatment program.
PIO – Public Information Office, the office within an agency like TDCJ that’s responsible for sharing information with the public and the media.
Criminal justice terminology:
Frequently used terms and phrases referring to the justice system in Texas and the United States
Prison – a facility administered by the state or federal government where people are imprisoned after being convicted of felonies. Generally, people are held in prisons for longer than in jails; in Texas, a person in prison has been sentenced to at least two years. Sometimes, prisons are administered by private companies that contract with governments.
Jail – a local or county facility where people are incarcerated for lower-level convictions, generally misdemeanors. Jails also hold people in pretrial detention (see definition) who have been accused but not convicted of a crime.
State Jail – a facility that exists in Texas to hold people convicted of “state jail felonies,” which are typically nonviolent offenses, mostly involving drug and property crimes; these offenses could be considered fourth-degree felonies in Texas. People are housed in state jails for up to two years.
Felony – traditionally considered a “more serious” offense. State law defines which crimes are classified as felonies, and there are different levels within the classifications (e.g., a first-degree or second-degree felony).
Misdemeanor – traditionally considered a “less serious” offense. Like felonies, there are different classes within the misdemeanor system that might carry more severe punishments.
Probation – also called community supervision, probation is a period of supervision given in place of incarceration. While on probation, a person must abide by conditions set by the judge that dictate what they are and aren’t allowed to do; failure to comply with these conditions can cause a person’s probation to be revoked, resulting in prison or jail time. People on probation are monitored by a probation officer.
Parole – release from incarceration, and a period of supervision during the rest of a person’s sentence. People on parole are monitored by parole officers and must abide by certain conditions; failure of parole conditions can cause people to be sent back to prison. The Board of Pardons and Paroles makes release decisions and can deny a person parole if they determine that the person is not rehabilitated or poses a threat to the community.
Pretrial detention – a period of detention in a jail that comes after arrest but before trial. During this period, people are legally innocent (“innocent until proven guilty”) but are incarcerated, sometimes for months or longer. Their release may depend on their ability to pay cash bail.
Bail – the money paid to secure release from pretrial detention. When a person is charged with a crime in Texas, an official known as a magistrate reviews their case and determines whether they’re eligible for bail; the magistrate also determines the bail amount.
There are different types of bail bonds in Texas, including cash, surety, and personal recognizance.
- Cash bond: if you pay a cash bond, you pay the full amount required by the magistrate. Once you have appeared in court and your case is completed, your money will be refunded.
- Surety or bail bond: you pay a bail bond company a lower price (generally 10% of the total cash amount set for bail) and they pay the rest of the money. In this situation, the money you pay to the bail bond company is not refunded to you after your case is completed, and the private company profits.
- Personal recognizance (PR) bond: if you are released on a PR bond, you do not have to pay any amount. You are essentially giving your word that you will return to court on your court date.
Pre-arrest diversion – a program or practice where people are referred to community-based services, like substance use treatment, instead of being arrested.
Law of parties – a Texas law that can hold people criminally responsible for the actions of others in certain circumstances. For instance, if John and Sam are in the process of a felony robbery and John kills someone, Sam can be charged in the death as well as for the robbery.
Windham School District – The school district for people incarcerated in Texas prisons.
Legislative session terminology:
Formal and informal phrases used by advocates and elected officials
Dropping a card – officially stating your position on a bill in committee without providing written or oral testimony.
Sine Die – the final day, or adjournment, of the Texas legislative session.
Veto period – the 20-day period after Sine Die, in which the Governor can sign or veto bills or let them pass into law without a signature.
Companion bill – a similar or identical bill filed in both the Senate and the House.
Chambers – the House and Senate, the two houses of the Texas legislature. The House is larger (150 Representatives) and its members are elected every two years, while the Senate is smaller (31 Senators) and its members are elected to six-year terms.
Fiscal note – an estimate of the cost that a bill or joint resolution will incur. Fiscal notes are prepared by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), which is the state’s budget-making authority.
TLO – Texas Legislature Online, at www.capitol.texas.gov. This is where you can find who represents you, visit the websites for specific representatives and senators, read and track bills, watch videos of the legislature, find committee hearing notices, and more.
Engrossment – the stage when a bill has been passed by the chamber in which it was filed and all amendments to the bill have been incorporated into the text. After engrossment, the bill advances to the other chamber (so if it started in the House, it moves to the Senate).