Sacramento, CA – Approximately 76,000 California prison inmates – including over 63,000 violent and repeat felons – will be allowed to leave prison early as a reward for their “good behavior,” according to state officials.
About 20,000 of those inmates are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole, the Associated Press reported.
“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,” California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) spokesperson Dana Simas said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” Simas reasoned.
She said California Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration was able to authorize the mass release without public comment by simply classifying the change as an “emergency regulation,” the Associated Press reported.
Over 63,000 inmates who have been convicted of violent offenses were already given the incentive of having their sentence reduced by one-fifth due to a 2017 rule change.
The latest alteration, which went into effect on Saturday, boosts the incentive to a one-third sentence reduction instead, the Associated Press reported.
More than 10,000 prisoners who have been convicted of a second offense deemed to be “nonviolent” will only have to serve half of their life sentence before being eligible for early release, according to ABC News.
In addition, all minimum-security inmates who are serving time in firefighting or other work camps will qualify to receive a month’s worth of early release for every month they serve, regardless of the severity of the offense they committed, the Associated Press reported.
Despite common belief to the contrary, just because inmates qualify for good time credit doesn’t mean their behavior in prison has been stellar, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger told the Associated Press.
“You don’t have to be good to get good time credits,” Scheidegger said.
“People who lose good time credits for misconduct get them back. They don’t stay gone,” he noted. “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.”
Former California parole board head Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Fresno) blasted Newsom for using his power to make such a massive alteration without input from citizens.
“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,” Nielsen told the Associated Press. “This is what I call Newsom’s time off for bad behavior. 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.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the State of California needed to reduce its prison population numbers, the Associated Press reported.
The state reduced the prison population so substantially in the past decade that the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy will close down by October of this year.
The California Correctional Center in Susanville is slated to shut down completely by July of 2022, according to the Associated Press.
Democratic lawmakers and activists have demanded at least 10 more of the state’s 35 prisons be shut down completely.