Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei granted a temporary restraining order on Wednesday to stop the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from increasing the number of “good conduct credits” that non-violent “second strike” inmates could receive.
The CDCR recently enacted “emergency regulations” to increase the number of credits given to prisoners working in fire camp-related work and to non-violent “second strike” offenders. Prisoners in the CDCR system can receive these credits for “educational, vocational, and self-improvement activities” to help give prisoners a better chance at adjusting once out of prison, and reduce the chances of committing crimes that could result in being jailed again. In many cases, the more credits that are earned, the quicker they can be released from prison. However, only prisoners non-violent offenders and those in minimum security were eligible for these credits.
Under the newest regulations, “non-violent” second strike inmates would see an increase in number of credits earned, going from 50% to 66%. Effectively, this would reduce sentences even more, going from half the time off to 66% of the time off. Those eligible for the new credit amount includes prisoners convicted for domestic violence, animal cruelty, human trafficking, and weapons possessions with prior convictions.
The new regulations upset many County District Attorney Offices across the state, who saw the new CDCR regulations as not only potentially dangerous, but warned that with most time off, prisoners weren’t likely to be properly rehabilitated. Many also noted that a large number of the non-violent prisoners up for more credits have violent pasts, with only the “two strike” reasoning in the regulation allowing them an early release in the first place.
With so much concern over the new regulations, 28 DA’s filed a temporary retraining order on the 22nd.
“Many of these so-called `nonviolent’ second-strikers have long and violent criminal histories — including repeat felony domestic violence convictions, sexual assaults and gun violence,” said Sacramento County District Attorney and author of the restraining order Anne Marie Schubert in a statement. “Releasing these dangerous inmates after serving a small fraction of their sentences not only lacks accountability, it shortens effective rehabilitation, violates victims’ rights and is a significant threat to public safety. No one is contesting good conduct credits for fire camp work, but sneaking in another class of individuals with serious and violent criminal histories goes too far.”
The DA’s noted that they aren’t against the part of the regulation giving more credits to those working in fire camps, especially if they help prisoners decide to work on fire crews and help control wildfires. They clarified that they were against more credits being given to prisoners with serious and violent criminal histories.
“Releasing inmates early who have committed atrocious crimes after only serving a fraction of their sentence threatens the safety of our communities and is a slap in the face to crime victims who are still suffering,” explained San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan on Wednesday. “My fellow District Attorneys and I do not contest good conduct credits for fire camp work, but extending those credits to inmates with serious and violent criminal histories is not in the interest of justice or the public’s safety.”
San Luis Obispo County DA Dan Dow added in a statement: “The people in our community have a right to expect that dangerous criminals with violent criminal history will serve their entire sentence in order to both protect society from their continued crimes and to send a strong message that violence will not be tolerated in our community. To award these additional credits by way of ‘emergency’ regulation procedure when there is no emergency is a slight of hand designed to go unnoticed and it must be stopped.”
Restraining order issued by Sacramento County Judge
The cause for concern convinced Judge Cadei on Wednesday to issue the restraining order, resulting in a cautious victory for the DA’s.
“We’re happy about this, but we also know it’s not a forever decision,” said a SLO County DA employee to the Globe on Thursday. “It’s a temporary restraining order, so this will need to be fought again another day. But, we like to think that residents can feel at least a little better that an easy avenue for earlier release by violent criminals was closed off.”
The CDCR, which has remained adamant about the credit change, defended themselves on Wednesday and noted that other parts of the new regulations, such as minimum security prisoners getting an increase of credits, would still be happening. They also noted that they are still in the process of reviewing the new order by Judge Cadei.
“The department stands by our regulations as drafted and is moving forward with implementing the unaffected portions of the credit-earning regulations as scheduled on January 1, 2022,” the CDCR said in a statement Thursday. “CDCR’s primary mission is public safety, and as part of that mission we will continue to ensure incarcerated people who are making efforts towards their own rehabilitation by maintaining good behavior and participating in programming and rehabilitative opportunities are afforded the chance to earn credits for their efforts. We are evaluating the order and the scope of its impact on our operations.”
A more permanent decision on the credit change for second strike inmates is expected some time next year.