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California’s Early Prison Release Plan Sparks Outrage, Confusion



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Changes made under California’s voter-approved Proposition 57 began giving 76,000 inmates on Saturday a chance to exit state prison early.

Many Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have been calling for further releases or shorter sentences. Californians United for a Responsible Budget, for instance, has said that the state should close at least 10 more of its 35 prisons.

The changes are the result of an Office of Administrative Law regulatory process and are allowed under Prop. 57, said Dana Simas, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Voters approved the justice reform legislation in 2016.

The change covers more than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes. These inmates will be eligible for good behavior credits that shorten their sentences by one-third instead of one-fifth.

Also covered: About 20,000 inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole.

You can view details of the changes that became effective on Saturday at this link.

Smart Policy or Assault on Public Safety?

The officials say the goal is to reward inmates who better themselves. Critics counter that the order endangers public safety.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation representing crime victims, said that inmates easily accumulate good-behavior credits — even while creating havoc inside prison walls.

“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.”

The top Republican candidate to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom — former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — criticized the early releases.

“The decision to release tens of thousands of violent criminals onto our streets is a blatant assault on public safety in California,” Faulconer said in a news release. “This will put countless families at risk across our state. Reckless and dangerous decisions like these have become all too common under Gavin Newsom. … ”

Inmates Won’t Be Released All at Once

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti sought to allay concerns among local residents about the order.

“It is our understanding that the media’s headline of 76,000 CA prison inmates being released early is misleading,” Botti said in an emailed statement. “Based upon CDCR’s explanation … our interpretation is that once this change for time served credits is placed in effect, over time, a large number (maybe 76,000 inmates) could potentially be released earlier than originally expected. This is inmate specific and not happening all at once.”

Under the change, more than 10,000 prisoners 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 same increased release time will apply to nearly 2,900 nonviolent third strikers, CDCR projected.

Also, as of Saturday, 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 their crime.

Newsom Administration Explains Policy Goals

“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,” Simas said.

“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she said.

Correction: The first version of this story erroneously attributed the early release changes to an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom.)

(Associated Press contributed to this article.)

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email