Judge rejects bid to overturn rules speeding up release of Calif. inmates

She said that the move would be too 'disruptive,' but acknowledged the likelihood of an eventual reversal


By Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee
        
SACRAMENTO — A judge in Sacramento tentatively rejected a request this week by 44 California district attorneys who were seeking an order halting the state's early release of thousands of inmates, but says there is a "likelihood" that the prosecutors ultimately will prevail.

In a tentative ruling denying a preliminary injunction against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shama H. Mesiwala denied the request for an injunction that would have stopped emergency rules that sped up how quickly inmates accrue good conduct credits to win early release.

The rules, adopted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, affect more than 76,000 inmates and were designed to lessen crowding in the state's prisons.

But Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and 43 other DAs statewide sued within weeks of the rules being adopted, arguing that the rules allow some prison sentences to be cut in half and that they create "a serious public safety risk."

The lawsuit argued that CDCR implemented the rules without input from the public, crime victims and their families, as required.

CDCR argued that the emergency rules enhance public safety and make inmates more amenable to good behavior because they know they can win release sooner under the new system.

The judge, however, found "doubt as to the propriety" of how the agency adopted the emergency rules, and wrote that there is a "likelihood that the plaintiffs' claims will prevail that CDCR did not apply the proper rulemaking process in enacting the regulations."

But, the judge added, ordering a halt to the use of the new rules would be too disruptive.

"CDCR has demonstrated that an injunction of its new credit system, after it was already allowed to go into effect, and a mandate to return to the prior credit system, would be extremely costly, very disruptive to the credit calculations and record keeping for many of those inmates, and very difficult to immediately implement," the judge concluded. "In balancing the quantifiable harms in terms of evidence, the concrete detrimental impact of an injunction would fall heavier upon CDCR."

The new rules affect 76,541 inmates and granted prisoners convicted of violent crimes one day of good conduct credit for every two days served. Previously, they would have earned one day of credit for every four days.

Non-violent second- and third-strikers who previously earned one day of credit for every three served get one day of credit for every day served under the new rules.

Schubert is running against California Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office must defend CDCR in such lawsuits, and has railed against the release of inmates who serve only a fraction of their original prison sentences.

In a statement Tuesday, she cited the case of Alberto Morales Quiroz, who was convicted in 2017 of causing the death of California Highway Patrol Officer Lucas Chellew during a chase. Quiroz was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but won release after three years and five months and was arrested again in May on charges of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, making threats and possession of a firearm.

She also announced that the DAs had asked CDCR for information on how much time inmates released from prison since January 2019 had served compared to their original sentences.

"We became aware of CDCR releasing inmates significantly shorter than their court-ordered sentence time, sometimes after serving less than 50% of their time, when those individuals were re-arrested while our records showed they should be in prison," her statement said. "District Attorney's Offices across the state have also seen a disturbing trend of individuals given parole consideration long before their court-ordered sentence time."
     
(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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