Last fall the voters of California passed Proposition 57 by 64.5 percent of the votes cast. In Yolo County that number was even higher, with more than 68 percent of the voters voting to support the proposition – the stated purpose of which was to reduce the prison population while improving rehabilitation and protecting public safety.
Among other things, the proposition allows prisoners convicted of non-violent felonies to be considered for parole once they complete the sentence for their primary offense. It also allows most prisoners to earn credits toward their total sentence for good behavior, rehabilitation and educational achievements, showing a commitment to their reintegration into society.
The Vanguard last week had the latest in the series demonstrating that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has been working to undermine the will of the people and is at odds with Yolo County voters’ social justice reform voting pattern – which has seen voters in Yolo County vote to end the death penalty twice, modify three strikes, and support reform through Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.
The latest example of this attempt to undermine comes with the public comment period for the implementation of Prop. 57.
“One of the key provisions allows inmates, convicted of a nonviolent offense and sentenced to state prison, to be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term of his or her primary offense,” according to the Yolo County DA’s Office in a press release. “In enacting Prop 57, the law requires that the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation develop regulations that ‘protect and enhance public safety.’”
The DA put out a one-sided release which encourages the public to comment prior to today’s (September 1) deadline.
In the view of the very conservative and anti-reformist California DA’s Association, there are portions of the regulations “that raise public safety concerns and, therefore, District Attorneys are urging the public to comment directly to CDCR.”
Among the areas cited: “Contrary to the ballot language of Prop 57, under the proposed regulations an inmate convicted of both violent and nonviolent offenses could be eligible for early release once they have served their sentence for the violent offense.”
The DA adds, “The proposed regulations do not allow prosecutors to access an inmate’s central prison file. Without such access, prosecutors cannot address an inmate’s institutional behavior and programming in prison, which are factors considered for early parole.”
They continue: “Under the proposed regulations, inmates have a right to contest a parole denial, but prosecutors and victims are denied that same right when parole is granted.”
Furthermore, “Under the proposed regulations, prosecutors are given only 30 days to prepare and submit a written statement to the parole board. This is an insufficient amount of time to obtain and review all case files, arrest reports, prior convictions and other relevant documents, and locate the victims so their voices can be heard. Prosecutors are requesting 90 days.”
The DA’s office writes, “Citizens demand transparency, particularly in the criminal justice process. Given the possibility of such substantial reductions in lawfully imposed sentences, it is important that the parole board be fully informed of all the pertinent information regarding inmates from all parties.”
For the other side of the story, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi sent the Vanguard its position paper regarding CDCR’s proposed regulations to implement Prop. 57.
According to their office, the proposition “authorized the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to adopt regulations implementing the will of the voters. While the proposed regulations do implement some of the objectives of Prop 57, they fall short in several significant ways.”
Mr. Adachi’s office notes, “In order to truly achieve the goals affirmed by almost nine million Californians who voted for Prop 57, the CDCR must make some significant revisions to these Regulations.
“The proposed regulations do accomplish some of the stated goals of Prop 57. They create a process by which some prisoners can obtain early parole and others can earn credit for rehabilitative efforts. They correctly recognize that someone who previously served a sentence for a violent offense and is now serving a different sentence for a non-violent offense should be currently considered a non-violent offender. And they increase the credit for many educational and rehabilitative programs.”
But the office argues that “the proposed regulations come up short in several ways that will leave many people the law was intended to help languishing in prison unnecessarily.”
- People who have been convicted of non-violent third strikes. Prop 57 clearly stated that anyone convicted of a non-violent felony should have the chance to show the parole board that they do not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. Penal Code section 667.5 makes clear what is meant by “violent felony.” But the proposed regulations exclude from early parole non-violent third-strike offenses and non-violent sex offenses not included in section 667.5. This is contrary to the will of the voters who passed Prop 57 and will have the effect of keeping thousands of people in prison longer than is necessary. Anyone convicted of non-violent offenses should have the possibility of early parole.
- People who participated in rehabilitative or educational programs prior to the passage of Prop 57. Voters passed Prop 57 on the assumption that it would help those people already serving a prison term. But, the proposed regulations only award credit prospectively for most programs – disregarding many people’s past achievements. Those who have been dedicated to their education and rehabilitation for years should be rewarded for it. The CDCR claims it would be too difficult to award credit retroactively. But the CDCR implemented technology to track inmate activities several years ago and was awarded the “Outstanding Information Technology Achievement in Government” award in 2014 for that technology. Inmates with a long record of educational and rehabilitative achievement should not have to lose out on the benefits of Prop 57. Credits should be awarded retroactively.
- Juveniles who have previously had Youth Offender Parole Dates and elders with Elder Parole Dates. Prop 57 explicitly intended to help inmates of all ages. But the proposed regulations would overlook youth who received Youth Offender Parole Dates under SB 260 and 261, effectively setting them back to their status before those laws passed. It similarly ignores Elder Parole Dates. Credits should apply to Youth Offender and Elder Parole dates, respecting both the intents of both Prop 57 and those earlier laws and policies.
- Many people who earn good conduct credits. Prop 57 intended all prisoners who show good conduct to have the opportunity to earn credits, regardless of sentence. But the proposed regulations offer a stratified system, determined by type of conviction. Some inmates earn credits at the rate of 20% time while others earn at the rate of 50% time, for the same good behavior. Sentences already reflect the severity of the offense. There is no need to magnify that degree of difference through the rehabilitation process. It is not in the spirit of this law. All prisoners should earn credits at the 50% rate.
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office concludes: “Proposition 57 recognized that California needs a justice system aimed at rehabilitation and reintegration of people in custody. These Regulations need to reflect that aim by including everyone who is committed to their own rehabilitation and to making a positive contribution to society after prison. “
—David M. Greenwald reporting