Forty-four district attorneys from all over California filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), calling new regulations expanding credits for prisoners unlawful. They say they’re worried it would further traumatize victims of crimes.
“My biggest concern was that crime victims who thought the person who perpetrated the crime was still going to be in custody and suddenly they’d see them walking down the street,” said Joyce Dudley, District Attorney for the County of Santa Barbara.
Effective May 1, the CDCR gave prison inmates more opportunities to gain credits that would shorten their sentence and accelerate their parole.
“They did it without open public hearings and comments as an emergency regulation under a special section of the law that says if you have an emergency, you can do these things quickly,” said Dan Dow, District Attorney for the County of San Luis Obispo.
The district attorneys involved in the lawsuit insist there was no emergency that would allow for this.
“So we are holding them accountable and saying you need to undo these regulations and do it the proper way,” Dow said.
Dudley added, “We need to know who is getting out so we can notify victims, and victims need to have their say.”
Inmates can earn credits for good behavior or by participating in programs in prison.
Dow explained, “That means somebody who got one day for every four served, they’re now getting one day for every two, and as credit toward their sentence and could get out of prison early."
One criminal defense attorney said that people could get more rehabilitative services while on parole that aren’t necessarily available in prison.
“The whole goal is designed to enable them to have skills to get a job when they get out. I think it would overall be beneficial for the community,” said Sanford Horowitz, a criminal defense lawyer in Santa Barbara.
We asked if the credits and early releases would cost Californians.
Dow said,“It is essentially no cost to the taxpayer for them to get the extra credits. If anything, it’s probably argued to be a savings because people would be let out of prison early. But that’s only looking at the incarceration costs, what about the costs on the victims?”
The Founder and CEO of a victim’s rights group, Patricia Wenskunas of Crime Survivors, Inc., said she worries about what happens to the inmates after they leave prison.
“You know they can’t afford housing, they can’t afford different programs and services. Are they going to be rehabilitated through these extra credits so they’re not going to go on and revictimize anybody else?”
Horowitz, who told us that he can immediately think of three clients who will benefit from this, shared a different perspective.
“It’s another opportunity to get back to life, to get back to their families, to get back to society, to rebuild the lives that they left because they were incarcerated.”
Inmates at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo are eligible, but the district attorneys say they don’t specifically know which prisoners.
Dow says the COVID-19 pandemic was not a factor in these new regulations.