A concerning number of California prosecutors are opposing good conduct credits for inmates. Good conduct or “good behavior” is often an avenue for early release, allowing many inmates the privilege of freedom. So, the question is, why are prosecutors challenging this rule, and what does this mean for prisoners who have worked hard to get an early release?
“A Matter of Public Safety”
Over two-thirds of California’s district attorneys are in open opposition to a new regulation that would allow over 76,000 inmates the opportunity to accrue good conduct credits and eventually an early release.
According to Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacione, “Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening their sentence by one-third to one-half impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk.”
Many of the state’s prosecutors agree. To them, early release means putting violent criminals back on the streets. In addition, there is a fear that these prisoners will retaliate against witnesses and victims and act on their violent tendencies.
Pacioni and the other prosecutors also feel that the new regulation was put in place without a fair vote. Corrections officials passed the regulations using an emergency regulatory process. This means that no public hearings or commentary took place, and any corrections cannot be implemented until the following calendar year.
The petition to change the good behavior regulation is under review by corrections officials.
What You Should Know
The petition to change the good conduct regulations would still help 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes. Other convicted prisoners would also benefit from the revisions.
- 10,000 prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses under the three strikes law would be eligible for release after serving half of their sentences
- 2,900 nonviolent third strikers would also be up for release after serving half of their sentences
- Minimum security inmates in work camps will be released on a month-for-month basis, meaning their sentence will be reduced for every month served
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert authored the petition with the hopes of drawing prison reforms back to the middle ground. She is running for state attorney general as an independent.
What’s the Big Deal?
There are currently 160,690 prisoners serving time in California prisons. Many of these prisoners are serving sentences of ten years or more for various crimes ranging from marijuana possession to assault.
Prisoners have opportunities to earn “good behavior” points based on their conduct in prison. If a prisoner behaves, he or she could be released at their next parole hearing. Prison reformers and progressive thinkers see this as an opportunity to fix the prison system and kill two birds with one stone.
One of the most significant points in the reform argument is that most people in prison don’t deserve to be there. Drug possession and other minor offenses should not be paid for by a lengthy prison sentence or an unattainable bail amount. If prisoners can prove that they are reformed through good behavior, many of those who are victims of racial disparity could have the opportunity to be free, and the prisons don’t have to be overcrowded.
Only 17 of California’s 58 district attorneys believe that prison reform could help fix some of the issues that plague the justice system. Their voices are vastly outnumbered, but many are still hopeful that they can reach a fair compromise with Pacioni and Schubert’s cohort of prosecutors.
The Law Office of Jacqueline Goodman will continue to follow the story as it develops.