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CA Prisons: Early Release Program Sparks Legal Battles

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By Kamika Dunlap on February 18, 2010 1:40 PM

California's new early release rules have sparked legal battles.

New rules on early release, passed as part of legislation aimed at reducing the state's prison population, are facing several legal challenges related to early release from county jails.

According to the Sacramento Bee, both the Sacramento and Orange County sheriff's unions, along with the Crime Victims United of California have all filed lawsuits to stop the law from taking effect.

The sheriffs' unions claim the law is bad policy and puts public safety at risk by releasing prisoners early. In addition to argued confusion about whether the new law applies to county prisoners or only state prisoners, there is much confusion around whether the new rules are to be applied retroactively to time served before the law went into effect on January 25.

The lawsuit filed by Crime Victims United of California claims the new law violates provisions added to the state Constitution in 2008, when voters passed Proposition 9, a victims' rights and parole measure known as Marsy's Law.

The confusion has forced counties to interpret the law for themselves. Some counties have begun releasing inmates under the new system of credits, while others still use the old system.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown recently addressed the problem in a bulletin issued to law enforcement agencies.

In the bulletin, Brown asserted that inmates should not be released using a retroactive formula under the new law. He said that credits should be applied only for time served after January 25. Ultimately, either the courts or legislature action will have to decide whether the law is retroactive or prospective.

As previously discussed, under the new county jail early release rules, inmates can get up to a possible 50% reduction in good time credit, where as they only got a possible 33% reduction in time off before.

So far the legal challenges have not stopped the early release of 68 inmates from Sacramento County Jail. In Orange County, 300 inmates a have been cut loose under the new law. Officials say from January 25 to February 10, San Bernardino County released about 650 inmates.

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