By Kevin D. Sawyer
Mike Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, shared a few thoughts on ballot initiative Proposition 57 before the election. Now that it has passed, many inmates in California are asking what to do next.
Romano did not provide specific details on how the law will be applied because no one is certain. “In some ways it’s guess work,” said Romano in an interview at San Quentin State Prison. “We think there’s going to be two classes affected.”
The first class would be those convicted of non-violent crimes. “Ordinarily we define violent crimes by what’s in the Penal Code,” said Romano, adding Proposition 57 may follow the Penal Code and for inmates that it will affect, they may have an opportunity for early parole. Still, he said it is unclear how it will unfold.
“This is all conjecture,” said Romano basing his judgment on the language in Proposition 57. “The statute itself is not crystal clear. I really want to emphasize that this is conjecture.”
To reduce inmates’ time for positive rehabilitative programs, Romano said the initiative gives the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) the authority to revise its credit-earning schemes. A second class of inmates will be affected by the law giving the CDCR this power.
“It’ll take some time for the CDCR to rewrite the regulations,” said Romano. He did say, however, that the proposition “doesn’t require the CDCR to change anything.” But it can reshape the way the prison awards credits such as milestones.
A commonly asked question among inmates is whether the law gets rid of sentencing enhancements. “I don’t think so,” said Romano. “I really do think 57 is a wave of legislation to find a fair way to get people out of prison who don’t belong.”
“The law will be retroactive in that those currently incarcerated will be given the opportunity to qualify,” said Romano, emphasizing the initiative is not clear or specific about all who will qualify. “This is part of a movement. It’s all up to the CDCR.”
Romano said the CDCR wants to see inmates with long records of rehabilitation programs and strongly recommends that they take rehabilitative programs as much as they are able to on the inside. He further offered that it is something to show the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) “you’ll do whatever it takes.”
He said he does not know if the BPH will be increased to accommodate the number of inmates that may qualify for early parole consideration but cannot imagine that it will not increase. He said inmates who do not qualify under Proposition 57 may challenge it and go to the courts. “It gives lawyers a lot of arguing to do.”