On Friday afternoon, CDCR announced an amendment to its regulations regarding the earning of good time credits. It’s always important to pay attention to such regulations, because as Kevin Reitz, Ed Rhine, and their colleagues at the Robina Institute remind us, whether a sentence is determinate or indeterminate is a question with many moving parts and many institutional actors, including prison administrators.
The new regulations are good news, albeit modestly so. For people doing time for nonviolent felonies, the good time credits will increase from 33% to 50% credit earned. For people doing time for violent felonies, the increase will be from 20% to 33.33%. In addition, the new regulations establish a new credit, called “minimum camp credit”: those who make it to conservation camps, earn a day for each day at the camp.
Reading these plain facts doesn’t suggest much cause for alarm, does it? But someone at the Associated Press decided that injecting some inflammatory, dehumanizing language was de rigueur, so they published this article, which was originally titled “76k California violent, career felons get earlier releases.”
The article is not only inflammatory, but deeply misleading. The number of people eligible for credits is far fewer than 76,000. First, the people presumably doing time for the most serious offenses–lifers without parole and people on death row–are ineligible for the credits. Second, for all those serving life sentences with the possibility of parole, release is not automatic, but rather conditioned upon success before the parole board which, if you’ve read Yesterday’s Monsters, you know is exceedingly rare (less than 20% of applicants receive parole.) Third, anyone who is already in the parole pipeline–including people with youth offender parole dates (who have aged out of crime) and people with elderly parole dates (who have also aged out of crime)–is not eligible. Fourth, the credits will be fairly modest because the regulations are not retroactive: the new percentage will only apply to the remaining portion of the person’s sentence, effective May 1, 2021. And finally, the choice of headline highlighting “violent, career felons” produced (as far as I could see) the predictable fatuous shrieks on Twitter, I’m sure will play a role in the similarly fatuous recall campaign, and is not the sort of thing that is conducive to reasonable conversations about criminal justice reform.
The regulations are a small step in the right direction. In the last few weeks, Chad and I are noticing increases of approximately 150-200 people at CDCR, presumably intake from jails. To curb new outbreaks and prevent the next pandemic, we must keep prison population lower to offset these transfers.