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Prosecutors challenge California prison good conduct rules

May 13, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2016, file photo, a row of general population inmates walk in a line at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California is giving 76,000 inmates the opportunity to leave prison earlier. They include violent and repeat felons. The move comes as the state aims to further trim the population of what once was the nation's largest state correctional system. More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be eligible for good behavior credits that shorten their sentences by one-third instead of the previous one-fifth under new rules that take effect Saturday, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
1 of 5
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2016, file photo, a row of general population inmates walk in a line at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California is giving 76,000 inmates the opportunity to leave prison earlier. They include violent and repeat felons. The move comes as the state aims to further trim the population of what once was the nation's largest state correctional system. More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be eligible for good behavior credits that shorten their sentences by one-third instead of the previous one-fifth under new rules that take effect Saturday, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — About two-thirds of California’s top county prosecutors on Thursday challenged new prison rules that expand good conduct credits and could bring earlier releases for tens of thousands of inmates, saying they were adopted without proper public notice or comment.

Corrections officials used an emergency regulatory process for the rules affecting 76,000 inmates, most serving time for violent offenses. The changes took effect May 1, though it will be months or years until the credits build up enough to make a difference in their prison terms.

The emergency rulemaking means no public hearings or comment until next year, after the department submits permanent regulations for review.

Forty-one of the state’s 58 district attorneys formally petitioned Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison to repeal the regulations, saying the department faces no operational emergency.

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“They should have complied with the various notice requirements and public comment for something of this magnitude,” said Vern Pierson, El Dorado County’s district attorney and president of the California District Attorneys Association.

In a statement, Corrections officials said they are reviewing the petition to determine next steps.

They noted voters in 2016 approved a proposition giving the Corrections department power to provide more opportunities for early release. And they said the emergency order was drafted in compliance with Office of Administrative Law policies and that the public still can weigh in on them before they become final.

The petition was authored by Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is running for state attorney general as an independent, and signed by 40 others.

The rule change “impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Schubert said in a statement. “Victims, their families, and all Californians deserve a fair and honest debate about the wisdom of such drastic regulations.”

Among those who did not join were reform-minded district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The revised regulations increase good behavior credits for more than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes, the corrections department projected. The changes would allow them to serve only two-thirds of their sentences rather than 80% with increased credits that started accumulating May 1.

Another 10,000 prisoners convicted of a second serious but nonviolent offense under the state’s “three strikes” law will be eligible for release after serving half their sentences, down from two-thirds. The same increase applies to nearly 2,900 nonviolent third strikers.

Minimum-security inmates in work camps, including those in firefighting camps, are all now eligible for the same month of earlier release for every month they spend in the camp, regardless of the severity of their crime.