I just ran across the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole's "Offense Severity List" approved in April 2007. It was posted in response to a query on the Prison Talk message board. These risk assessments are part of the guidelines ranking each type of felony under Texas state law with a baseline Low, Medium or High risk level. These rankings are supposed to assist the Board of Pardons and Parole identify who should be eligible for release, though the BPP frequently refuses to follow them.
The first thing that popped out at me was the list's length - 65 single spaced pages of lists of different felonies. It wasn't too long ago that the total number of separate felony offenses in Texas was just under 2,000, which I already thought was an eyepopping number. On this list, the Board of Pardons and Parole has identified 2,324 separate acts which the state Legislature has declared felonies!
(When God sat down to author His list of forbidden acts, readers may recall, He could only come up with ten.)
I was also interested at the rankings for several crimes. A low ranking means you're (theoretically) more likely to be released, while a high ranking should make it harder to get parole. Most violent crimes, kidnappings, murders, robberies, all but a handful of the various types of manslaughter cases all carried a "high" risk ranking. By contrast, military desertion earns a low ranking, as do immigration-related crimes. An improper relationship between a teacher and a student earns a "medium" tag.
Most business-related fraud crimes get low risk labels, while many drug crimes get medium or high.
Gambling crimes mostly are considered low risk, as is simple assault, while "stalking," "extortion" and fixing the outcome of a dog or horse race all make you "medium" risks. Bribery and bribe receiving make you a low risk. However, giving false information to gain credit over $200K makes you a high risk. Burglarizing a home, interestingly, gets you a higher risk factor (M) label than burglarizing a business (L).
See the full list here, but it's still hard to get out of my head: 2,324 separate felonies on the books in Texas, and thousands more misdemeanors beyond that. Talk about overcriminalized.
I've said many times before why I think we wind up with so many complex and redundant laws:
Bills increasing penalties for crimes are to legislators what poetry is to the artist - a written form of self expression. It's a way legislators say, "This is what I stand for. This is what I'm against." Well, who isn't against child molestation? That's hardly the point if jacked up penalties make family members less likely to report crimes.By now, though, with more than 2,300 felonies on the books, isn't it clear what the politicians are against? Must we really continue to jack up penalties incessantly just to make a statement that's already been made ad nauseum? Marc Levin at the Texas Public Policy Foundation has suggested "Arresting the Growth of Criminal Law in Texas," and I couldn't agree more. The trend in Texas toward overcriminalization had become a caricature already more than a decade ago - today it's just a clusterf#$K.