California on Saturday will begin increasing early release credits for about 76,000 inmates, including tens of thousands who were convicted of violent crimes, as the state continues to reduce its prison population.
The Associated Press reported that of the 76,000 who will be eligible for early release, some 63,000 were convicted of violent crimes. They will now be eligible to obtain good behavior credits that will “shorten their sentences by one-third instead of the one-fifth that had been in place since 2017,” the outlet reported. That number includes 20,000 inmates who were sentenced to life sentences with the possibility of parole.
“More than 10,000 inmates convicted of a second serious but nonviolent offense under the state’s ‘three strikes’ law will be eligible for release after serving half their sentences. That’s an increase from the current time-served credit of one-third of their sentence,” the AP added.
In addition, nearly 2,900 nonviolent inmates who were imprisoned as part of the “three strikes” law will be eligible for early release after serving half of their sentence.
Further, “all minimum security inmates in work camps, including those in firefighting camps, will be eligible for the same month of earlier release for every month they spend in the camp, regardless of the severity of their crime.”
The changes were approved last week by California’s Office of Administrative Law as “emergency regulations,” but permanent regulations will need to be submitted next year and allow for a public hearing and comment.
Dana Simas, spokesperson for the Department, told the AP that the “goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behavior and follow the rules while serving their time, and participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons.”
“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she added.
But Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told the outlet that the whole notion of credits for good behavior is misleading.
“You don’t have to be good to get good time credits. People who lose good time credits for misconduct get them back, they don’t stay gone,” he said. “They could be a useful device for managing the population if they had more teeth in them. But they don’t. They’re in reality just a giveaway.”
As the AP noted, California’s inmate population has already dropped by more than 21,000, mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, there were about 117,000 inmates in California prisons. It is unclear how many of the 76,000 who will be made eligible for early release will actually receive it.
The drop in inmates will result in a second prison closing in the Golden State. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) promised to reduce the prison population and close prisons. He currently faces a recall over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.