Siskiyou District Attorney joins 40 California DAs to oppose early release of 76,000 inmates
Forty-one California district attorneys are speaking out against the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's new regulations that could result in the early release for more than 76,000 inmates.
CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said the regulations, announced on April 30, were necessary to comply with “the direction outlined in the governor’s budget summary” presented a year ago. By invoking an emergency, the traditional public comment period was bypassed.
Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus said the regulations were passed "under a claim of an emergency" and would result in the early release “of some of California’s most violent criminals.”
California district attorneys are fighting back with the administrative law petition. This type of petition is often the first step in seeking a formal court order declaring the regulations unlawful. The petition was submitted to Allison by Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and 40 others, including Andrus.
In adopting these regulations, and claiming an emergency, the CDCR Secretary stated these regulations were necessary to comply with the direction outlined in the Governor’s Budget Summary presented a year ago on May 14. Andrus said that by invoking an emergency, the traditional regulatory scheme and transparent public comment period was bypassed.
Under Proposition 57 — passed by voters in 2016 — CDCR has the authority to provide opportunities for inmates to receive Good Conduct Credits. The adopted regulation changes will increase the amount of credits issued to inmates who qualify.
It's estimated that 76,000 inmates, including violent and repeat felons, are eligible for early release as the state aims to further trim the prison population.
More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be eligible for good behavior credits that shorten their sentences by one-third instead of the one-fifth that had been in place since 2017. That includes nearly 20,000 inmates who are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. Inmates with a life sentence without the possibility of parole do not qualify for good credits.
The department has been pushing to decrease the prison population for a number of years and is currently in the process of closing several facilities across the state.
“The significant decrease in the state’s incarcerated population over the past year is allowing CDCR to move forward with these prison closures in a thoughtful manner that does not impact public safety, and that focuses on the successful reentry of people into communities once they release from our custody,” Allison said. "While these decisions are never easy, they are opening the door for the department to increase efficiencies as California continues to focus on reentry and rehabilitation efforts.”
Corrections officials say the goal is to reward inmates who better themselves while critics say the move will endanger the public.
Many disagree with the increased efforts toward early release.
“Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals by shortening sentences as much as 50%, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk," Andrus said, who believes that with a record budget surplus, "what the state government should focus on is making sure that those inmates who will leave prison do so in a position to be law abiding, drug free and productive.
“Instead, they are focusing on reducing sentences for unrehabilitated felons,” Andrus said. “This petition asks CDCR to repeal these regulations, begin the process anew and allow for transparency and public input. Victims, their families, and all Californians deserve a fair and honest debate about the wisdom of such drastic regulations.”
CDCR officials say that it will take months or years before any inmates go free earlier and align with the department's goal to rehabilitate.
“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,” department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in a statement to the Associated Press.
“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she said.
If the emergency regulations are nullified by a court, CDCR would be forced to pass the regulations in the traditional manner, requiring the State’s Office of Administrative Law to provide public input.
The Associated Press and Visalia Times-Delta reporter Sheyanne N Romero contributed to this report.