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1 May, 2021 22:07

California gives 76,000 inmates, mostly violent criminals, chance for earlier release amid prison population cuts – media

California gives 76,000 inmates, mostly violent criminals, chance for earlier release amid prison population cuts – media

California is said to be setting the stage for the early release of as many as 76,000 prison inmates, including 63,000 who were convicted of violent crimes, as Governor Gavin Newsom furthers his efforts to reduce incarceration.

The sudden rules change went into effect on Saturday after being approved by California's Office of Administrative Law on Thursday, giving prisoners increased early-release credits for good behavior. Among those affected are 20,000 inmates whose crimes were so severe that they were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Figures on the affected prisoners were provided to the Associated Press by a California Department of Corrections spokesperson.

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The lifers and others violent convicts will be able to earn credits that shorten their sentences by one-third, rather than the previous standard of one-fifth. The releases are expected to occur in the coming months and years as sentences end earlier in a state that's already gripped by rising violent crime. For instance, homicides in Los Angeles jumped 38% last year to 349, the highest level in more than a decade, and are on pace in 2021 to surge a further 200%.

"I feel for the innocent children and women who were assaulted by those perps," one Twitter commenter said of the early parolees. "Did anyone have them in mind while making this decision?"

The move comes after Governor Newsom reduced California's prison population to a 30-year low of 99,929 in 2020, partly by releasing thousands of inmates to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The state had 144,000 people incarcerated as recently as 2011, the highest in the US.

Inmate populations are falling so fast, in fact, that the state has announced plans for two prison closures in recent months. California's prisons were previously plagued by overcrowding.

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The latest rule changes will "increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behavior and follow the rules while serving their time, and to participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons," Corrections Department spokeswoman Dana Simas told AP.

About 13,000 inmates convicted of serious non-violent offenses under California's "three strikes" law are reported to be eligible for release after serving as little as half of their sentences, rather than the previous credit of one-third. Minimum-security inmates in firefighting camps and other work details are said to be able to halve their sentences.

"This latest effort to reduce the California prison population further tips the scales of justice against the rule of law and safety of the general public," Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.

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