California Could Grant Early Release for 76,000 Inmates, Including Those Convicted of Violent Crime

On Saturday the California Office of Administrative Law approved plans to increase early release credits for 76,000 inmates in an effort to decrease the population of incarcerated citizens. 

Under the plans, more than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crime and repeat felons - including 20,000 serving life sentences - will be eligible for good behaviour credits that could shorten their sentences by a third. 

Additionally, 12,900 inmates convicted of nonviolent offences under California’s “three-strike” law will be eligible for release after serving just half of their sentence. 

Office of Administrative Law spokeswoman, Dana Simas, said in a statement:

“The goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behaviour and follow the rules while serving their time and participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons. Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner.”

According to the LA Times, Simas said her department was granted the authority by the State to make the changes by pushing them through as “emergency regulations.” 

As of Saturday, all minimum-security inmates in work camps, including those in firefighting camps, will be eligible for the same month release in spite of the severity of their crime.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, criticised the move and contended that inmates should not be released early. 

“You don’t have to be good to get good time credits. People who lose good-time credits for misconduct get them back, they don’t stay gone. They could be a useful device for managing the population if they had more teeth in them. But they don’t. They’re in reality just a giveaway.”

Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen criticized Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom for the plans. 

“He's doing it on his own authority, instead of the will of the people through their elected representatives or directly through their own votes. This is what I call Newsom's time off for bad behaviour. He's putting us all at greater risk and there seems to be no end to the degree to which he wants to do that.”