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CDCR Enacts Emergency Regulations to Lower State’s Prison Population

Regulations will be in Effect for up to 180 Days

March 30, 2017
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued emergency regulations aiming to reduce California’s prison population to comply with Proposition 57, which voters approved in November 2016.
These emergency regulations go into effect Friday, March 31 and will remain for up to 180 days. CDCR will start the formal rulemaking process during this period, including the public comment period, to make the new regulations permanent. The League board of directors voted in October 2016 to oppose Prop. 57 because of public safety concerns stemming from reducing sentences for specific crimes that — despite debates over legal definitions — are clearly violent.

Prop. 57 gave the state parole board the authority to grant early release to prisoners whose primary sentences are not considered “violent” crimes. Many offenders are eligible under Prop. 57 to seek parole after serving the full term of their primary offense without factoring in any sentencing enhancements they received in addition to the base term. The definition of “violent” crimes has led to controversy in the legislature where multiple bills have been introduced to expand the definition of what is considered a “violent” crime.
CDCR’s emergency regulations are targeted to incentivize inmates to take rehabilitation opportunities more seriously by linking credit-earning opportunities to participation in CDCR’s rehabilitation programs, including vocational training and educational programs. The programs on which these credits are based are expected to better prepare inmates for eventual release, and reduce their risk of recidivism. The credits themselves can advance the date of an inmate’s release. 
Under the emergency regulations, the Board of Parole Hearings retains its current discretion to weigh for itself an inmate’s progress toward meaningful rehabilitation, and deny parole to any offender. In addition, a number of disqualifying events listed in the regulations will block inmates from early parole eligibility. Such incidents include fighting/acts of violence, the inmate being sentenced to a term in a Secured Housing Unit within a prison at any time over the past five years, or caught with contraband such as a controlled substance or makeshift weapon. 
While the possibility of early release of “non-violent” offenders has fueled concerns among city officials and the law enforcement community alike, Parole Board discretion, along with the number of potentially disqualifying events for early parole, may reduce to some degree the volume of releases. CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan stated that as a result of the regulations, roughly half of the inmates potentially eligible for parole will be released in FY 2016–17 — approximately 600 inmates.  
CDCR is expected to make these emergency regulations permanent, after a period of public comment, by adopting these regulations through the normal rulemaking process over the next three months. The regular rulemaking process includes a public notice and comment period, and making available documents and information on which the rulemaking action is based.
For questions regarding these regulations, please contact Vicki Waters at CDCR at (916) 324-8092.

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