With a federal court mandate to reduce its prison overcrowding, and a looming budgetary crisis, California has begun to roll out its new early release program.
The state has been ordered to trim its prison population in an effort to fix long known prison problems. The state would also like to reduce its $60 billion budget deficit.
As a trailer to last year's budget, California passed legislation aimed at trimming the state's inmate population by 6,300 in 2010 through a combination of parole reforms and early release initiatives, such as the grant of time credits for inmates who complete educational programs.
The legislation to reduce the inmate population also included changes to the early release calculation for inmates in county jails.
The new law, which took effect Jan. 25, allows some low-risk inmates to leave jail earlier than the old early release rules would allow. It increases the amount of good-time credit and work time credit opportunities for inmates who behave well and do not refuse to satisfactorily perform assigned labor.
So, as of Jan. 25, what are the new rules for county inmate early release?
Those confined in or committed to a county jail, industrial farm, or road camp, or any city jail, industrial farm, or road camp (unless they must register as a sex offender, or have been convicted of a violent or serious felony) may get:
This adds up to a possible 50% reduction in time served, where they only got a possible 33% time off before. (Sex offenders and those with violent or serious felony conviction still get a possible 33% reduction.)
Attorney General Jerry Brown has said (for now) credit for good behavior should be calculated beginning when the law went into effect -- Jan. 25 -- rather than from the beginning of the inmate's sentence.
Ultimately, however, either the courts or further legislative action will have the final say about whether the early release changes should be applied retroactively or prospectively, since the Legislature did not clarify the issue when it enacted the new rules.