A coalition of district attorneys are petitioning the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to repeal new regulations that took effect May 1 that grants early release for tens of thousands of inmates in state prison for good behavior.

The group of 41 DAs, led by Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, are calling out the new emergency regulations that increase the amount of good-behavior credits inmates can receive for early release. Under regulations in place since 2017, the credits reduce sentences by one-fifth, and under the new rules, sentences for all inmates serving time for crimes other than murder would be reduced by one-third — potentially leading to the upcoming release of 76,000 prisoners.

"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,” Schubert said in the petitioning letter, co-signed by 40 other DAs. "This petition asks CDCR to repeal these regulations, begin the process anew, and allow for transparency and public input. Victims, their families, and all Californians deserve a fair and honest debate about the wisdom of such drastic regulations."

Joining Schubert in the petition are the DAs of Marin, Napa, and Solano counties. Schubert, notably, recently announced she is running for California Attorney General.

As CBS Sacramento reports, an estimated 63,000 of the 76,000 eligible inmates were convicted of violent offenses. And the DAs argue that there is not enough of a rehabilitation requirement in the regulations.

"There’s not a productive thing they have to do other than not break the rules," says Place County DA Morgan Gire, speaking to CBS Sacramento. And regarding the crimes that many of these inmates are serving time for, Gire says, "Those are rapes, those are robberies, those are kidnap[pings]..."

"The goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behavior and follow the rules while serving their time, and participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons,” said CDCR spokesperson Dana Simas in a statement to the Associated Press earlier this month, after the changes were announced.

“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” Simas said.

California has been under court order to reduce its prison population due to overcrowding, since it peaked in 2006 with 160,000 inmates. In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld that order, and the population has been decreasing ever since. Under Governor Jerry Brown, lower-level felons were transferred to county jails. And California voters approved initiatives in 2014 and 2016 to grant early parole to some inmates, and reduce sentences for some crimes.

Over the course of the pandemic, with more early releases granted on an emergency basis, the prison population in California dipped below 100,000 for the first time in decades. As the AP notes, two state prisons are slated for closure in the coming year, and advocacy groups are pushing to close ten more.

The DAs' petition is the first step in seeking a court order to potentially nullify the CDCR's emergency regulations. As the Chronicle explains, should a court nullify the new rules, the CDCR will need to pass regulations via the State’s Office of Administrative Law, with full transparency and a public input process.

Photo: Hedi Benyounes