Many of the prisoners held in TDCJ for long periods of time are people who are convicted of what we would all likely agree are serious offenses. For these people, making parole can be quite a challenge. One of the most legitimate complaints I have heard over the years from prisoners is that the reason given for their denial “2D” seems inappropriate and unfair. I must admit, from a logical standpoint, such a complaint seems entirely justified. I hope this blog post will explain why 2D is not a very credible or valid reason for denying one’s parole, and using it only serves to further undermine people’s faith in the fairness of the parole system.
When the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles makes a decision to deny a person parole, the law requires them to give a reason or reasons for the decision. Because of the sheer volume of files at the Board, they often do not give prisoners any detailed guidance as to why they did not make parole. Instead, the Board picks one or more reasons from a pre-ordained list of choices that are coded as follows:
1D Criminal History
2D Nature of Offense
3D Drug or Alcohol Involvement
4D Institutional Adjustment
5D Adjustment During Periods of Supervision
6D Participation in TDCJ-CID Proposed or Specialized Programs
7D Time Served
8D Felony Offense (while incarcerated)
9D This is Applicable To Mandatory Supervision Only
10D Other (provide written details)
There are problems with using many of these pre-scripted responses, and an analysis of all of them is certainly worthwhile. However, this post will focus on 2D only. Perhaps I will compose blog posts in the future about some of the others.
On the written notice of parole panel decisions that is supposed to be given to all inmates following a Board decision, whenever 2D is listed, alone or in combination with other reasons, it looks something like this:
2D The record indicates that the inmate committed one or more violent criminal acts indicating a conscious disregard for the lives, safety, or property of others; or the instant offense or pattern of criminal activity has elements of brutality, violence, or conscious selection of victim’s vulnerability such that the inmate poses a continuing threat to public safety; or the record indicates use of a weapon.
The First Problem With Reason 2D
The first and most obvious problem with the content of 2D is that the word “or” is used six times. Six! Now, I have always considered myself pretty good at reading and writing, and I had to scratch my head in bewilderment the first time I read the definition of a 2D denial. It’s so vague that, out of respect for the inmates, and the English language itself, they need to ask themselves how it is possible that this is acceptable to anyone.
I’ll never understand why they used “or” so many times. If I told you I was right or left handed, am I saying anything at all? If I said I’m right or left handed and I like basketball or football, does that make things any more clear? Prisoners and their families deserve better!
The Second Problem With Reason 2D
The second problem with 2D is that it references “one or more violent criminal acts indicating a conscious disregard for the lives, safety, or property of others. The Texas Penal Code references two broad classes of crimes called “Crimes Against Persons” and “Crimes Against Property”. Most crime are, by definition, intentional. Intentional crimes involve, by definition, a conscious disregard for other people’s rights, including their lives, safety, or property. Therefore, almost every offense under Texas law that landed a person in prison in the first place could later become the sole basis for denial of one’s parole under 2D.
The Third Problem With Reason 2D
The third, and perhaps most fundamental problem with using Reason 2D in Texas Parole involves a myopic focus on the crime itself, rather than on the person presently under consideration, and such a narrow focus gives no regard to the legislature’s stated parole eligibility dates themselves and the part of the Board’s mission devoted to the rehabilitation of offenders. If we are going to use the offense itself as the basis for not letting a person out of prison, we need to see a dramatic limitation of such a reason not to parole someone, because prisoner rehabilitation is blatantly disregarded any time 2D is used.
As many inmates have said to me over the years, nobody can change what happened in the past when a crime was committed. Instead, what many of the most remorseful and honorable inmates try to do is faithfully and consistently show everyone that the person who committed the crime is not the same person as the person under consideration.
Another point that bears consideration is that the penalty (the number of years in prison) was selected or blessed by the Judge, with the full knowledge of when the inmate would become eligible for parole. Therefore, one could make a very strong argument that the “nature of the offense” was already fully taken into consideration at the time of the conviction and sentencing.
Since the crime itself cannot ever be changed, and if 2D is the reason given even once, why how could we logically ever believe it’s appropriate to grant parole? After all, if the use of the weapon clause is the reason 2D is used, we can never go back and change whether or not a weapon was used. Similarly, we can never go back and say that there was not a disregard for other people or that the act was violent.
I’m afraid that the complaints do seem justified; , in all but the most extreme and horrible of cases, 2D is just an excuse to avoid having the courage and the will to look deeper than the title of the crime and the police/prosecutor’s version of the crime itself. Nonetheless, the Board must be willing to place the focus where it belongs; on the person who is presently incarcerated, not on what he did. After all, in general, if he hadn’t done something bad, he wouldn’t have been sent to prison in the first place.