Ballot measure’s implementation speeds path to parole for many.
New CDCR regulations that implement Proposition 57 shift the focus of incarceration more toward rehabilitation, though not as much as many had hoped. Still, the rules are expected to allow the early release of about 2,000 prisoners within the first year — and up to 10,000 by 2021.
That’s far fewer than the 30,000 estimated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office before the ballot measure passed in November 2016. The huge difference is mainly because the CDCR’s regulations now classify all third-strikers as if they are violent felons. Efforts are afoot in Sacramento to further narrow the list of crimes considered non-violent. That would further limit access to Proposition 57 programs.
Proposition 57 was based on the idea that inmates are entitled to use prison time to improve their prospects for successful return to the community. Inmates who participate in rehabilitation or education programs and exhibit good behavior can shave months off their sentences or earn earlier opportunities for parole board hearings.
Under the new regulations, inmates earn milestone credits when they complete training programs with attendance and performance requirements. These are one-time credit earnings — up to 12 weeks a year for completing 208 hours of an approved rehabilitation program, and up to six months for earning a graduate equivalency diploma (GED), associate (AA) or bachelor’s (BA) degree.
The regulations boost good conduct credits for inmates who remain discipline-free, ranging from one day of credit for four days of incarceration up to two days of credit for each day of incarceration, based on an inmate’s x original sentence and current security status.
Altogether, this could speed up the last years of especially long, determinate sentences for prisoners who have worked their security level down sufficiently to work in fire camps. Theoretically, an incarcerated person eligible for all of the new options could have their sentence reduced by as much as 16 weeks if they participate in both milestone and rehabilitation programs and earn the maximum good-conduct credit.
By restoring major incentives for prison programming, Proposition 57 could have a significant impact on California prison culture. One of the main unanswered questions is how relationships among prisoners and between prisoners and staff will affect implementation. One possibility is a return to the time when inmates were highly motivated to write books or create other works, which was one of the ways to earn parole consideration under the indeterminate sentence system of the 1950s and 1960s.
However, due to overcrowding, inmate control of key prison space, and security-heavy design of most California prisons, delivering rehabilitation programs won’t be easy.
Potentially, programs implemented under Proposition 57 could benefit all incarcerated persons, not just those eligible for the new credits. Perhaps life without parole inmates and other inmates ineligible for Proposition 57 could be rewarded with security level reductions.
The governor’s office appears to see Proposition 57 as a way to persuade the federal courts to lift its ongoing oversight of California prisons. That oversight has forced the state to address prison conditions, including overcrowding. Ultimately, the state must be able to manage its prison system on its own, within all legal boundaries and with dignity for all persons.
Pushing against Proposition 57’s success are anti-crime advocates and district attorneys who say the early release of more inmates increases the risk of crime in their communities. At least six bills have been proposed in Sacramento to limit Proposition 57 by adding to the list of crimes classified as violent, and therefore ineligible for the new early release options.
Adapted from an article written for Wall City by Jonathan Simon, the Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law and the Faculty Director of the Center for the Study of Law & Society at U.C. Berkeley.