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California Enacts Non-Revocable Parole And Increased Credits To Reduce Prison Population

by John E. Dannenberg

In what appears to be the first attempt to comply with federal court orders to reduce California’s prison population, the State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 18, which, effective January 25, 2010, places over 20% of the parole population on a new non-revocable parole (Penal Code (PC) § 3000.03) and gives “half-time” credits to disciplinary-free prisoners who were otherwise eligible for “one-third-time” credits. Additionally, it makes prisoner fire-fighters who are assigned to a prison, rather than just to a camp, eligible for the “two-thirds” credit rule. The new law also requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to promulgate new regulations for eligible prisoners, granting up to six weeks additional credit for successful completion of approved rehabilitation programs, including academic, vocational and substance abuse programs.

The intent of the new rules is to incentify good behavior and rehabilitation among those incarcerated for minor, non-violent, non-“serious” crimes. But the law goes a great step further, by eliminating the discretion of parole agents to violate certain paroled offenders solely for “technical” violations. While such non-revocable parolees are still subject to warrantless searches and may be held without bail if arrested on a new offense, they are no longer subject to being indiscriminately swept up for the purpose of filling empty beds in the state prisons.

CDCR estimates that of a base parole population of 111,000, approximately 24,000 will qualify for the new non-revocable status. The new credits (which are also to be applied to time spent in county jail awaiting prison), are not available to those with a registrable sex offense, those currently (or previously) sentenced for a serious felony (PC § 1192.7) or anyone with a prior conviction for a violent felony (PC § 667.5). Those who otherwise were only eligible for 15% credits (e.g., violent felonies), 20% credits (e.g., “Two-strikers”), or none at all (e.g., murderers and certain parole violators), are not affected by the new rules. There is also no relief for Three-Strikes prisoners.

One category of prisoners will see a reduction of credits: the bar on credit-earning status that already applies to those in “the hole” (Administrative Segregation or Security Housing Unit programs) for gang-related misconduct now also applies to those placed in Psychiatric Services Units or Behavioral Management Units for such behavior. As of yet, CDCR has not passed new regulations to comport with any of Senate Bill 18’s provisions.

The law became effective January 25, 2010 for anyone sentenced after that time. Also possibly eligible are those whose appeals of their underlying convictions were not final as of that date. Less likely to gain relief under the new rules are those whose convictions were already final as of then. The latter two groups will probably have to take their claims to court.

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