Public input sought as Calif. prisons consider shortening sentences for good behavior

The deadline for written comment is April 13


By Teri Figueroa
The San Diego Union-Tribune
        
SAN DIEGO — State prison officials are considering changes that would allow them to potentially shave years off inmate sentences, a proposal that San Diego's top prosecutor opposes but reform advocates say provides incentive for good behavior in custody.

District Attorney Summer Stephan issued a statement Thursday asking for people to voice their thoughts on the proposal, which would make permanent a policy started last year as an emergency measure to reduce the prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deadline for written comment is April 13.

A prisoner at Donovan state prison in Otay Mesa on September 2, 2016.
A prisoner at Donovan state prison in Otay Mesa on September 2, 2016. (Howard Lipin/San Diego Union Tribune)

Under the proposal, the state would permanently increase the amount of time slashed off a sentence for good behavior. For example, second-strike inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses would go from getting half their sentence cut to two-thirds their sentence cut.

Stephan's office noted that a person sentenced to 10 years could be released after serving three years, four months.

Violent offenders could go from having a fifth of their sentence shaved to having a third of it cut.

The good-behavior credit changes have been in place since May 2021. In December, corrections officials announced the proposal to make the changes permanent. At that time, corrections department Secretary Kathleen Allison said those and other changes were "bold and necessary moves to ensure we have processes that work."

Making the changes as an emergency measure does not require public input. Making them permanent does.

On Thursday, Stephan asked the public to give input on the proposal. She issued a statement saying that early release for people who have histories of serious or violent crimes threatens public safety and is "a slap in the face to crime victims who are still suffering."

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"When a judge who hears the evidence and considers the impact on victims hands down a sentence, that sentence should stand and not be altered after the fact except by credits currently provided for under the law," she said.

Supporters of the change say the purpose of such credits is to give people in custody reason to abide by the rules.

"It is a foundational element of maintaining jail and prison safety to recognize and incentive good behavior by people in custody," said Natasha Minsker, an attorney and consultant with criminal justice reform organization Smart Justice California.

Minsker said in an email that jails and prisons can't add time to a sentence, so they are empowered to shorten time in custody for people with good behavior.

"Without good conduct credits, jails and prisons have no way to enforce the rules and maintain safety for everyone who works and lives inside," Minsker said.

Corrections officials have created a webpage for frequently asked questions about the proposal. It is at cdcr.ca.gov/frequently-asked-questions-on-good-conduct-credits/

Written comments about the proposal must include the rule number, NCR 22-03, OAL Notice File No. Z2022-0215-10.

They can be emailed to RPMB@cdcr.ca.gov., or sent by mail to:

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Regulation and Policy Management Branch
P.O. Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 94283-0001

Public comments can be made during the teleconference, starting at 10 a.m. April 14.

To participate by teleconference:
• Call 1-877-411-9748 (TTY/TDD: Dial 711).
• When prompted, enter participant code 6032676

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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