41 County DAs Oppose State’s New Early Prison Release Rules
State Attorney General candidate Anne Marie Schubert wants to overturn new good conduct credits resulting in the early release of many thousands of California prison inmates.
And, Schubert has an overwhelming majority of county district attorneys lined up behind her.
“CDCR’s use of emergency regulations to reduce sentences will result in the early release of some of our state’s most dangerous criminals.” — Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp
Forty-one of the state’s 58 district attorneys formally petitioned Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison to repeal the regulations, saying the department faces no operational emergency.
The rule change “impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Schubert, the Sacramento County district attorney, said in a statement. “Victims, their families, and all Californians deserve a fair and honest debate about the wisdom of such drastic regulations.”
In a news release, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said that “by shortening sentences by as much as 50%, CDCR’s use of emergency regulations to reduce sentences will result in the early release of some of our state’s most dangerous criminals. The impact of such a reckless action on crime victims and public safety is obvious and must be challenged. The petition submitted asks CDCR to repeal these regulations, begin the process anew and allow for transparency and public input.”
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward echoed Smittcamp’s sentiments. The “adopted regulation changes increase the amount of custodial credits, thus granting early releases to violent offenders as well as non-violent offenders serving sentences under California’s Three Strikes Law,” Ward said.
Emergency Process Used to Revise Rules
Corrections officials used an emergency regulatory process for the rules affecting 76,000 inmates, most serving time for violent offenses. The changes took effect May 1, but it will be months or years until the inmates build up enough credits to exit prison early.
The Valley district attorneys signing the petition: Smittcamp, Ward, Kern County’s Cynthia Zimmer, Kings County’s Keith Fagundes, and Madera County’s Sally Moreno.
However, justice reform-minded DAs from Los Angeles (George Gascón) and San Francisco (Chesa Boudin) didn’t sign the petition.
Related Story: California’s Early Prison Release Plan Sparks Outrage, Confusion
Showdown on Criminal Justice Reform
Schubert is running as an independent against newly appointed Attorney General Rob Bonta, a liberal Democrat. Bonta replaced Xavier Becerra after he joined the Biden administration. Also in the race is moderate Republican Nathan Hochman, former assistant U.S. attorney.
Many political observers see the 2022 state Attorney General’s race as a referendum on how California handles crime and punishment.
The emergency rulemaking means no public hearings or comment until next year, after the department submits permanent regulations for review.
In a statement, Corrections officials said they are reviewing the petition to determine the next steps.
Proposition 57 Empowers Early Release Speed-Up
Prison officials pointed out that voters approved Proposition 57 in 2016. The proposition gave the Corrections department power to provide more opportunities for early release. And, they said the emergency order was drafted in compliance with state policies. The public, they said, can still weigh in on them before they become final.
The revised regulations increase good behavior credits for more than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes, the corrections department projected. The changes would allow them to serve two-thirds of their sentences rather than 80%. The increased credits began on May 1.
Another 10,000 prisoners convicted of a second serious but nonviolent offense under Three Strikes will be eligible for release after serving half their sentences. That’s down from two-thirds. The same increase applies to nearly 2,900 nonviolent third strikers.
Minimum-security inmates in work camps are all eligible for a month of earlier release credits for every month they spend in the camp — regardless of their crimes.
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)