Late last week, California prison officials proposed regulations for the portions of voter-approved Proposition 57 that increase parole and prisoners’ access to good time credits. The regulations, which were submitted to the Office of Administrative Law, are expected to cut the state’s prison population by 9,500 inmates over a period of four years.
Prop. 57, once fully implemented, will boost access to early release “good time” credits for eligible inmates who participate in education and other rehabilitative opportunities. The main focus of the proposed regulations is this system for earning credits for early release. The regulations lay out four different types of credits, and how inmates can earn them.
“The spirit behind Prop. 57 is the belief that people can change their behavior through rehabilitation opportunities,” said CDCR Press Secretary Vicky Waters. “Through rehabilitation, people have the opportunity to change and acquire skills and tools to be productive members of our society once they leave prison.”
Prop. 57 will also increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense. This means that prisoners will be able to go before the parole board prior to completing time added onto a base sentence via sentence enhancements, consecutive sentences, and alternative sentences. (The new law also takes the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and gives the control back to judges.)
CA Governor Jerry Brown, who sponsored the proposition, believes Prop. 57 will undo a legislative mistake he made in 1976 when he signed SB 42. The bill diminished the role of rehabilitation in California prisons by opening the door for the “determinate sentencing” structure (fixed-length sentences not subject to shortening by the parole board). SB 42 also established that the purpose of incarceration is punishment.
Prop. 57 is a “common sense reform” that puts the state in “the best position to know how individual inmates are programming and whether they are showing sustained positive behavior,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan.
The new law “brings us closer to the days of indeterminate sentencing by placing the responsibility on the inmate to remain disciplinary free and to be actively programming,” Kernan explained. “In the indeterminate sentencing days, an inmate’s behavior determined when he or she would be released and that made for a safer environment for both staff and inmates, and produced greater public safety for Californians.”
PROP 57 AND PRISON OVERCROWDING
California Governor Jerry Brown sponsored Prop. 57 as a means for keeping the steadily rising prison population below a federal three-judge panel’s mandated 137.5% population cap. Keeping the inmate population below the federal court cap protects the CDCR and the state from “the possibility of indiscriminate court-ordered early releases of prisoners.”
Proposition 57 is estimated to reduce the average adult prisoner population by approximately 2,000 during fiscal year 2017‐18. That number is expected to increase to approximately 9,500 in 2020‐21. With the help of Prop. 57’s population reduction, the CDCR hopes to return the 4,900 inmates held in out-of-state facilities by 2020. (In 2014, California housed inmates as far away as Oklahoma.)
If voters had not passed Prop. 57 last November, the population would have increased by 1.0 percent to 130,118 in 2017‐18, according to Governor Jerry Brown’s 2017-2018 budget.
According to a March 15, 2017 update to the three-judge court, California prisons are either at 134.3% or 135.3% capacity depending on how the panel calculates the state’s new prison beds.
In 2016, the CDCR has added 1,584 beds to Mule Creek State Prison, and 792 beds to the RJ Donovan Correctional Facility.
HOW INMATES CAN ACCESS GOOD TIME CREDITS
The regulations include a credit-earning system broken into four credit categories.
Milestone Completion Credits will be given to inmates who complete the objectives of qualifying rehabilitative programs, including substance abuse treatment programs, social life skills programs, academic programs, Career Technical Education programs, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment programs, and more.
Rehabilitative Achievement Credits will be given to inmates who participate in rehabilitative group or individual programs, including substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice, and parenting classes.
Educational Merit Credits will go to inmates who achieve major academic accomplishments, like obtaining a high school diploma or GED, a college degree, or a professional certificate as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor.
An inmate can also receive up to 12 months of credit for performing a “heroic act in a life-threatening situation” or for giving “exceptional assistance in maintaining the safety and security of a prison.” This credit is called the Extraordinary Conduct Credit.
Generally, inmates serving time for violent offenses will receive fewer days of credit than inmates serving time for non-violent offenses, as well as inmates serving as firefighters with the Department of Forestry or the CDCR’s fire house. Inmates who have been sentenced to life-without-parole or who are serving a death sentence will obviously not be eligible for early release credits.
Credit days can be taken away for serious rule violations. (The credits can also be restored if “the disciplinary action is reversed.”
The four credit categories will go into effect on August 1, 2017.
The proposed regulations increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders once they have completed the base sentence for their primary offense. Inmates who are serving time for a violent felony as defined in Penal Code section 667.5, or who have been convicted of a sexual offense that requires registration as a sex offender, will not be eligible. (There are more restrictions, which you can find in Chapter 3 of the regulations: here.)
Inmates will be “rigorously screened,” and the state’s parole board “will review all relevant evidence, including an inmate’s full criminal history, institutional behavior, rehabilitative efforts, and written statements from interested parties and determine whether the inmate poses an unreasonable risk of violence to the community,” according to the regulations.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, we wrote that the governor would be able to review parole board decisions under Prop. 57. This does not appear to be the case.