One of the biggest myths amongst the Texas prisoner population is the belief that when a prisoner reaches his/her “shortway” date, a shortway discharge is pretty much a “sure thing.” It’s actually NOT a sure thing, by any means. The purpose of this blog entry is to provide a little insight into the concept commonly called “shortway”, and explain what it is, what it isn’t, and provide a theory as to why it’s such a poorly understood concept by prisoners and their families.
Let’s start with a little vocabulary. “Shortway” is a slang term for the process of releasing a defined class of prisoners from TDCJ Corrections Division and into the custody of TDCJ Parole Division, to allow the prisoner to begin serving on mandatory supervision. It is important to recognize that a very large percentage (well over 50%) of prisoners are not even eligible for a shortway release, because they have been convicted of one of the many felonies that simply do not allow for a release to mandatory supervison under any circumstances. Typically, all the more serious felonies are in this category.
Most prisoners I have met already know if they are among the lucky ones who get to be eligible for parole and shortway, or if the only ticket home early is a traditional parole vote. The confusion I usually see occurs when a guy mistakenly assumes the shortway date is a “gimme” if he isn’t able to make it home on an earlier parole eligibility date. It’s understandable that a prisoner would make this erroneous assumption, and here’s why…
Like a regular parole vote, a mandatory supervision vote is completely discretionary. Unfortunately, many people, including defense lawyers who are trying to get plea deals in place, mislead the person accused of crime by telling him/her that parole and mandatory supervision are all but guaranteed. Neither one is anywhere close to being “guaranteed”.
In order to emphasize the illusory nature of mandatory superviosn, TDCJ calls the shortway vote “Discretionary Mandatory Supervision”. Aside from the obvious contradiction between something being “mandatory” and “discretionary”, TDCJ further confuses people by labeling the shortway date as the “Projected Release Date” on the Offender Information section of their website.
If you tell a person that he is projected to go home on a certain date, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the person will come to believe he is actually going home on that date. Makes sense, right? Well, I for one think it’s pretty insensitive to have a website that tells a loved one’s family that he’s “projected” to be home on a certain date, and then regularly end up not sending him home, especially if the release was supposedly “mandatory”. Perhaps it’s time to relabel some of this stuff.
Ok, so now we know that shortway release, otherwise known as discretionary mandatory supervision, is never guaranteed. But, exactly what are the odds? According to TDCJ’s own statistics, the odds are better than a parole vote, but far from guaranteed.
In 2007, the percentage of shortway eligible individuals released was 52.05%. In 2008, the percentage dropped to 49.97% and has hovered just under 50% in the time since then. It is important to remember that this number includes the re-consideration of people who have already been denied one or more shortway opportunities in the past. Therefore, while I do not know the exact number, I suspect that a prisoner eligible for his first shortway consideration may well only have a 35% or 40% chance. That is so far from a “sure thing” that it is truly sad to think about the thousands of people who had assumed they were finally going home via shortway discharge, only to find out that they were going to spend at least another year locked up.
I handle both types of cases on behalf of prisoners, parole and shortway, and I have found that there is very little difference in the variablesunder consideration when the Board is looking at a particular offender. Therefore, my approach to both types of release largely disregards the title of the manner of release (parole vs. discretionary mandatory supervision) and I focus instead on facts, information, and all the intangibles.