By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert, flanked by victims, victim advocates and other DAs, pushed back against proposed early release as they addressed their role as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against what they call CDCR’s policies that would allow the early release of “dangerous and violent” incarcerated people through the use of good time credits.
“Getting out of prison—let’s be honest—for doing nothing,” Schubert said at the press conference on Wednesday. “Our government is now letting them out early for, in fact, doing no rehab at all.
“Can you imagine that, thousands of murderers and sex offenders in our prison system, getting out early for doing nothing more than not misbehaving at a time when we see today and pretty much every day on the news that violent crime in this state and in this country is surging,” she continued. “How is that safe for our society?
“This is not a monopoly game, it’s real life and consequences of crime are real,” she said.
When the changes were announced in May, 45 elected district attorneys joined in the lawsuit in an effort to stop the changes.that were announced this spring.
In early May, Governor Newsom announced that changes to Prop. 57, passed by the voters in 2016, will allow 76,000 incarcerated individuals a mechanism to be released early from state prison. Those individuals include over 63,000 people incarcerated for violent crimes who will be eligible for Good Conduct Credits that shorten their sentences by one-third, instead of the previous one-fifth.
As Newsom explained, “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… Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner.”
The new ruling allows CDCR to expand good behavior credits and allow some 76,000 incarcerated people to become eligible for a shorter sentence.
But, as many have noted, these are all people who would be released at some point anyway. The only difference is that CDCR, under the auspices of Prop. 57, would slightly move up the release date.
Moreover, Capitol Public Radio pointed out, “No one has been released under the expanded program and officials estimate it will be months or years before that happens.”
Nor is it automatic. They have to apply for the credits to be applied.
Efforts by Schubert and others last year to increase penalties for certain property crimes and parole violations in Prop. 20 were met with overwhelming defeat at the ballot box last November.
Cristine DeBerry, who heads the Prosecutor’s Alliance, pointed out, “The voters have rejected this dated approach because it did not make us safer. This is a ploy intended to distract the public from the fact that tough-on-crime policies created more insecurity, exacerbated homelessness, increased recidivism, and led to mass incarceration.”
Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson pointed out that “64 percent of voters approved (Prop. 57) because these are people that will be getting out and living in the community and the consensus is that it’s better to live next to someone who has participated in education and rehabilitation before re-entry.”
The fact that this would simply speed up the process, however, was lost on those speaking at last week’s press conference.
El Dorado DA Vern Pierson, who heads up the California District Attorneys Association, said that the judge hearing the case said, “’The DAs of California are right on the law,’ but the judge was concerned about something.” He said that DAs represent the people of California but the judge wondered whether “we have legal standing to represent individual victims of crime = the individual victims themselves.”
Pierson, reading from the transcript, said “the court indicated that perhaps a new plaintiff or new plaintiffs could be substituted in—until new plaintiffs are substituted in, it would be improper to issue any sort of injunction.”
Pierson said part of the quote makes him angry, “because the new plaintiffs he is referring to are people who have been victims of crime here in the state of California.”
He added that “the mighty Attorney General’s office here in the state of California will wear you down in litigation. You cannot afford to take us on, even if you’re right.”
He charged, “The AG’s office has lined up an army of very smart and clever lawyers that will tie up California’s crime victims in endless and expensive litigation.”
The AG’s office declined comment in response to Pierson’s statement.
Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, is representing the victims’ groups in this case.
He noted that California law has provided credits to those incarcerated in prison for work and other good conduct, but California law until Prop. 57 limited those credits to about 15 percent by statute for most violent crimes.
While he said that CDCR can adopt new regulations without notice to meet its operational needs, “This is not an operational need regulation, this is a rule of substantive law regarding how long people are going to spend in prison for committing serious crimes.
“These regulations contradict the statutes imposing limits on credits,” he said.
Scheidegger mentioned that there are victims’ families participating in the press conference “who have already .been through that parole process and can testify as to what a wrenching experience that is that having to go through that go through the murder of your family member and face the perpetrator.”
But the plan doesn’t create more parole hearings. According to CDCR, it would allow people with good behavior credits to shorted their sentence by one-third instead of the one-fifth that had been in place since 2017.
“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,” department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in a statement when the policy was announced in May.
“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she said.
But crime victims and the organizations that support them have continued to ignore the relatively modest change that this proposal brings. Instead they are acting like it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card rather than a minor administrative change. If someone had a 10-year sentence under this proposal, they would get out after 7 years rather than 8 years under the current policy.
Nina Salarno Besselman, President, Crime Victims United charged that the Governor, AG Bonta and CDCR “have done nothing but revictimize victims of crime.
“They are more interested in releasing violent felons than protecting public safety,” she said. “They are more interested in silencing victims’ voices and their rights and supporting victims. And they are blamed, and arrogant about it. As evidenced in the quote, then district attorney Pearson so eloquently explained they don’t care about victims.”
She continued, “When you treat release dates as arbitrary and capricious as this administration has done changing them on a whim, it’s not only a front and offensive to the crime victim. It is a threat to public safety, and that is evident in the rise and the wave in crime in California.”
Christina Barnes is the daughter of murder victim Cindy Ramos, who was killed in 2009 by men who called themselves her friends. The brutal murder led to a sentence of life without parole in a plea agreement.
She said that should have been the end of the story, but she said, “Don’t you think if this goes forward, that someone somewhere won’t be trying to add to the next wave of releases?” She said, “But crazier things have happened—you are disregarding the justice system (we) have in place and rewriting it to fit an agenda.”
But the early release program would not even impact the people who killed Barnes’ mother. The only people released under this would be people who are eligible for release at some point anyway.
Crime Victims United and their clients are not simply opposing this move, they are opposing all reform efforts.