44 district attorneys sue California prison officials over ‘early releases’ of inmates

sacbee.com

Sam Stanton
May 26, 2021

Inmates walk through the exercise yard at California State Prison, Sacramento, near Folsom in 2013. A group of California district attorneys sued the state corrections department seeking a halt to new good conduct credit rules they claim will result in early release of 76,000 prison inmates. RICH PEDRONCELLI AP FILE

A group of 44 California district attorneys sued state prison officials Wednesday trying to force a halt to emergency state rules that they claim would allow the early release of 76,000 inmates.

The suit, filed by DAs from Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Yolo and 40 other counties, seeks an immediate end to rules announced by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation April 30 that increase credits allowing inmates to be released sooner than they normally would be, prosecutors say.

“Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening sentences as much as 50%, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This lawsuit asks the court to enjoin CDCR from awarding these credits unless and until these regulations are exposed to a fair, honest and transparent debate, where the public has input on dramatic changes made through the regulatory process.”

Schubert, who is running for state attorney general, earlier criticized the new rules in a petition sent to CDCR officials.

CDCR said in an emailed statement Wednesday that it would review the lawsuit.

“In accordance with the constitutional authority provided by voters under Proposition 57, CDCR filed regulations to promote changes in good behavior credits, and followed all policies and procedures by the Office of Administrative Law,” the statement read. “We will review the details of lawsuit once we are served, and continue to work with our partners to promote rehabilitation and accountability in a manner consistent with public safety.”

The new rules grant inmates convicted of violent crimes one day of good conduct credit for every two days served, while previously they earned one day of credit for every four days, CDCR says. Non-violent second- and third-strikers who previously earned one day of credit for every three served now get one day of credit for every day served, CDCR says.

The rules allow inmates to reach parole board hearings sooner than in the past, but prosecutors have been warning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that emergency rules adopted to reduce crowding in prisons will lead to inmates being released who should still be in prison.

“Earning additional credits can move up parole consideration of people convicted of nonviolent crimes who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense, and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community,” the department’s website says.

Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.