Forty-four of California’s 58 district attorneys have sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to block recent changes in the way good conduct credits are calculated. The changes, which took effect May 1, could eventually result in earlier releases for thousands of the state’s incarcerated, said the Associated Press in an article dated May 26.
The objections to the changes are based on procedural grounds. The district attorneys argue that Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison erred in using an emergency declaration to skirt the usual regulatory and comment process.
The lawsuit argues that the only emergency cited by the department was a need to conform to guidance in the governor’s nearly one-year-old Budget Summary.
“There is no actual emergency,” the lawsuit argues. “Nowhere in the supporting documents is there an explanation of how last year’s budget has become an operational need for the adoption of the regulations on an emergency basis.”
The plaintiffs ask the Sacramento County Superior Court to scrap the regulations and bar implementation of the changes to the credits.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who has political aspirations to become state attorney general, is leading the opposition to the credit changes. “Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening sentences (by) as much as 50%, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” she said.
But the department cites voter approval of Proposition 57, which allows earlier parole for most incarcerated people, as authority for the recent changes to good conduct credits.
The department “filed regulations to promote changes in good behavior credits, and followed all policies and procedures by the Office of Administrative Law,” said CDCR. The department committed to “continue to work with our partners to promote rehabilitation and accountability in a manner consistent with public safety.”
The changes will impact about 76,000 incarcerated people, many in prison for violent offenses. Of these, about 63,000 will prospectively serve two-thirds, rather than 80%, of their sentences. About 13,000 others will prospectively serve half, rather than two-thirds, of their sentences.
Incarcerated people in minimum-security work camps and serving on firefighting crews will earn a month of earlier release for each month served.
The counties of San Francisco and Los Angeles were prominent among the fourteen counties that did not join the lawsuit. The district attorneys of those counties have been active backers of criminal sentencing reforms.
San Quentin resident Andy Halperin expressed frustration with how the media have portrayed the changes to the good conduct credits. “These credits are not giveaways,” he said. “They are the result of rehabilitative efforts.”