A “Spring Cleaning” of Our State Prisons

By Eric Siddall
In January, we sent a Public Records Act (PRA) request to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR ) requesting:
  • All emails, correspondence, or texts between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57, including discussion of any rules and regulations proposed from November 4, 2016, to the present;
  • All telephone logs, voicemail recordings, and notes between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57
Rather than siding with transparency, the CDCR denied our request and refused to provide the documents. We requested these items because the governor made it clear during the Prop 57 campaign he would be active in helping to develop the regulations if the initiative passed.  Given CDCR’s dismal history in creating release programs and properly evaluating parolees for release, the public certainly deserves to know how these regulations were to be developed.That history includes a 2011 audit finding CDCR failed to properly implement the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) software program that that was to evaluate inmates likely to be successfully rehabilitated and integrated into public life upon parole.  Similarly, an audit in 2008 found CCDR simply ignored state law in parole decisions, with supervisors often ordering the release of inmates without properly documenting the reasons and altering the reports of parole agents to justify those releases.
However, the regulations have been developed. They were released by CDCR this past week: Guidelines for revisions to sentences and credits. We had repeatedly blogged that violent inmates would be getting early releases thanks to Prop 57, a charge Governor Brown hotly disputed. Well, it turns out the new guidelines call for inmates serving sentences for violent crimes to receive a 5% increase in credits awarded for “good time behavior,” meaning those inmates will be released earlier than they would have been before Prop 57.
As we also pointed out, the list of crimes most people and common sense would consider “serious” and/or “violent” don’t fall within the extremely narrow definition of Prop 57.  “The enhanced credits of one month per year for participating in “self-help” programs will now apply to crimes, such as assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious bodily injury, arson of forest land causing physical injury and many others. In short, even more violent inmates released to the streets earlier. In addition, a CDCR’s “emergency regulation” will classify as a “non-violent” offender an inmate currently in prison for a “violent” offense but who has completed serving time for that violent offense and is still serving time on other offenses.
Further, prosecutors and victims will only have 30 days to contest the parole release of the “non-violent” inmates who have completed their base sentence.   The opposition must be in writing and there is no anticipation that parole board hearings with attendance by prosecutors or victims will be allowed. That, of course, is in sharp contrast to Governor Brown’s promise during the campaign that he would work to address this lack of live participation by prosecutors or the victims.   Further, while inmates will be given the right to request review of a hearing officer’s parole decision, neither victims or prosecutors will be allowed that right.  Finally, unlike parole grants for inmates serving life with parole terms, there will be no review of any parole board decision by the governor.
The CDCR changes in parole eligibility are set to take effect April 12, 2107, if state regulators give approval, with final approval set for October 2017 after consideration of public comment. However, inmates will begin accruing early release credits while the public review is ongoing.
As a result of these new rules, CDCR is expect to grant early release to at least 9,500 felons in the next four years, violent and serious offenders among them, with little opportunity for opposition by victims. As Senator Scott Wilk pointed out recently, “through a host of ‘reduce prison population at any cost’ measures, our governor and the legislature have already partnered to release nearly 50,000 criminals from our jails and prisons.”
The proposed new rules are yet another blow to victims of crime and the public. The only thing remaining is the inevitable spike in crime and subsequent denial by Prop 57 supporters that the early release of thousands of inmates led to that increase in crime.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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