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Getting out of State Prison Early

Posted in Criminal Law on April 14, 2015

In 2011, California was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce the overcrowding in its state prisons. The state has worked to address the problem by implementing programs aimed at allowing some inmates to earn additional credits that can be applied towards their time served, allowing early release to some inmates, and starting alternative custody programs. The Santa Rosa criminal defense lawyers at Li & Lozada know that the best way to handle criminal charges is having a talented attorney by your side, but if you’re already in the state prison system, these are ways to potentially reduce your sentence.

Credits

Additional credits for non-violent second strikers

Prior to 2014, non-violent[1] second strikers were given 20% credit for the time they served, but that number was increased to 33.3% last year. For example, under the previous system, an inmate sentenced to one year in prison would have been eligible for release after 304 days, however, under the new system the same inmate would now be eligible for release after serving 273 days in prison. These credits only apply to inmates serving time for non-violent offenses and offenses which do not require the inmate to register as a sex offender, and only apply prospectively, not retroactively.

The CDCR reported that from the time the program was implemented in February 2014 through October 2014 over 2,500 eligible inmates were released from prison under the program.

“Milestone” credits

In addition to the program above, non-violent second strikers are eligible to receive up to six weeks of credits once they have completed certain in-prison programs such as academic or vocation training, or a substance abuse program.

For more information on the milestone credit program, see this CDRC page.

Early Parole

Early Parole for non-violent second strikers

The same court order that implemented the programs above, also required the state to change the timetable used to evaluate when non-violent second strikers[2] would be considered for parole. As of January 1, 2015, non-violent second strikers are now eligible for parole consideration after having served 50% of his or her sentence. The state has defined “served 50% of their sentence” to mean “actual continuous time served in custody,” and does not take into consideration any credits.

As part of the parole review process, the District Attorney from the county in which the offender committed his or her crime and the offender’s victims will be allowed to provide feedback on whether they believe the inmate should be paroled. This information, along with that contained in the prisoner’s central file will be considered in assessing the inmate’s potential to pose an unreasonable risk to safety.

The State estimates that between 5,000 and 6,000 inmates will be eligible for this program in 2015.

Elderly Prisoner Parole

This program aims to reduce overcrowding by potentially paroling lifers and determinate-term prisoners who are 60 or older who have already served at least 25 years of their sentence. At the hearing, the Board of Parole Hearings will evaluate the prisoner’s risk to public safety, giving special attention to the inmate’s age. As it stands, eligible candidates will have “elderly parole” considered at their next regularly scheduled BPH hearing but can ask that their case be considered earlier.

It is estimated that less than 100 inmates statewide are eligible for the program.[3]

Youth Offender Parole

Under this program, an inmate serving a long sentence for a crime committed while they were underage[4] may be eligible for early release.[5] The point at which they become eligible for a parole hearing depends on the sentence they received. If the offender received a long determinate sentence, they will be eligible for a hearing after serving 15 years. If the offender received a sentence of fewer than 25 years to life, they will be eligible for a hearing after serving 20 years. If they received a sentence of 25 years to life, they will be eligible for a hearing after serving 25 years.

Although these parole hearings will be similar to other types of parole hearings, it is expected that the hearing officers handling these cases will give more weight to (1) the fact that juveniles are thought to have “diminished culpability” due to their youth and are not as proficient as adults in understanding the risks of committing crimes and the consequences that flow from breaking the law, and (2) the personal growth and maturity of the inmate since the offense was committed.

During the program’s first nine months of use, nearly 200 “youthful offender parole hearings” had been held.

For more information, see the information sheet here.

Alternative Custody Program

Yet another way in which the state is decreasing overcrowding is to allow non-serious, non-violent offenders and non-sex offenders to serve the last portion of their sentences in an alternative custody location. These locations may include residential homes, nonprofit residential drug-treatment programs, or transitional care facilities that offer individualized services based on an inmate’s needs. The hope is that this program can help reintegrate offenders into their communities.

The State chose to implement this program by first focusing on female inmates. To be eligible, an inmate must volunteer and have 24 months or less to serve in state prison. An inmate is ineligible if they are incarcerated for committing a serious or violent felony,[6] have a current or prior sex-offense conviction or PC 290 registration requirement, made an escape attempt at any time within the last 10 years, have been cited for certain in-prison misconduct, have an active restraining order filed against them, have any affiliation with a gang, or have a felony or Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold. Although not determinative, an inmate may be denied access to an alternative custody program if she has current or prior sexual conviction not requiring PC 290 registration, current or prior child abuse arrests or convictions in which the offense was related to abuse or neglect of a child, or current or prior convictions for stalking.

At this time, it is unclear how the program will expand.

For more information, see the CDRC fact sheet here.

[1] As defined by Cal. Penal Code 667.5(c).

[2] Certain inmates are excluded from this program including those serving time for a current violent offense conviction, those who were ever convicted of a crime that requires them to register as a sex offender, those who recently served or are serving a Security Housing Unit (SHU) term, those on “C-status” (inmates who have refused to work or are not assigned to a work program due to misconduct), or have received certain 115 violations.

[3] California To Begin Paroling More Elderly, Medically Frail Inmates, available at http://www.californiahealthline.org/articles/2014/6/17/california-to-begin-paroling-more-elderly-medically-frail-inmates

[4] To be eligible the inmate must have been underage at the time they committed their crime and tried as an adult.

[5] An inmate is not eligible for this program if their sentence was a third strike under three-strikes laws; the result of a one-strike rape, of life without parole.

[6] As defined by Penal Code § 1192.7(c) or § 667.5(c).