California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation hands down emergency orders to increase good behavior credits that could result in the early release of 76,000 violent criminals
VISALIA – Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward is joining the majority of the state’s DAs to push back against the state’s temporary emergency regulations that could release 76,000 violent and repeat felons.
According to Ward’s office, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) emergency regulation increases the number of credits for good behavior. The Associated Press reported that 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.
“Instead of I think it was what 15 or 20% before, you’re now going get 30% credits for your time. So, a 10-year sentence is seven years right off the bat. Not including other incentives,” Ward said.
He added that the increase in credits was an internal CDCR change that was announced on April 30 at 3 p.m. and intended to take effect the next day before district attorneys all over the state could weight in. Vicky Waters, special advisor and assistant secretary of communications with CDCR, said this is all above board thanks to Proposition 57 which passed in 2016.
“In accordance with the constitutional authority provided by voters under Proposition 57, CDCR filed regulations to promote changes in good behavior credits, and followed all policies and procedures by the Office of Administrative Law,” Waters said.
Ward noted though that when Prop. 57 was passed, CDCR credits mostly concerned inmates who were nonviolent offenders. Ward said good behavior credits would go toward inmates serving fire camps and other programs that help state organizations. And he agrees with good credits for honest work, but says that 30% is too much.
“I fundamentally agree with there should be some type of recognition for inmates that abide by the rules and not prey upon the staff. They should be rewarded somehow. But that does not mean I don’t think that your sentence gets reduced so much,” Ward said.
Ward and Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert noted in their letter and press releases that CDCR authorized this change in credits under the guise of an emergency. Although, there was little evidence that an emergency existed. Ward and Schubert contend that the emergency was a ruse to circumvent a public hearing process.
“In adopting these regulations, and claiming an emergency, the CDCR Secretary [Kathleen Allison] stated these regulations were necessary to comply with ‘the direction outlined in the governor’s budget summary presented a year ago on May 14, 2020,” according to Ward’s press release. “By invoking an emergency, the traditional transparent public comment period was bypassed.”
The AP reported that CDCR must submit permanent regulations next year which according to Waters will be subject for public input and final approval.
Still, there has not been a clearly defined emergency that demands the need for additional credits.
“There’s no sentence saying our emergency is X. There is a sentence that says these regulations are in line with the governor’s May of 2020 budget, which I think is not an emergency,” Ward said.
AP News reported that the state’s prison population peaked at approximately 160,000 in 2006. In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court backed federal judges’ requirement that the state reduce overcrowding since inmates were being housed in gymnasiums and activity rooms. AP News also reported that in 2014 voters reduced penalties for property and drug crimes, two years later voters approved allowing earlier parole for most inmates and the population had dropped to 117,000 before the pandemic.
This year, according to Gov. Newsom’s 2021-2022 budget summary, with fewer prisoners CDCR has the opportunity to “eliminate its reliance on contract prison capacity.”
“CDCR terminated six of seven in-state contracts by October 2020, and the governor’s [b]udget reflected closing the final in-state contract correctional facility by May 2021,” the summary stated. “Consistent with the 2020 Budget Act, the Department plans to close Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy by September 2021, achieving savings of $119 million General Fund in 2021-22, and $150.3 million General Fund annually beginning in 2022-23.”
Waters said that incentivizing inmates by rewarding them for good behavior is a way to reduce recidivism in the system.
“This effort incentivizes incarcerated individuals to have sustained good behavior and encourages them to participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which can help reduce recidivism to make our communities safer,” Waters stated via email.
Ward was appalled by the notion that earlier releases from state prisons would not have a negative impact on communities. He pointed to businesses that had been vandalized over the previous year because of “zero-dollar bail.”
“Businesses were struggling anyway with the closure orders during that time, they were struggling also with crime.,” Ward said. “So, all we’re asking at this point is for CDCR, to unwind the regulation, stop the release. And let’s have an open forum on this.”
A long time advocate for “truth in sentencing,” Ward said that victims of crimes are at a loss with the emergency regulations. He said that victims should be able to count on the system to put victims away for the amount of time a judge sentences them.
“Now, with a stroke of a pen, with no accountability whatsoever, we’re violating that, and there’s no truth in sentencing,” Ward said. “We are at a pivotal point in our society where we’ve got to give victims and their families rights and hold criminals accountable, and not continue down this social experiment path.”