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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – With little notice, California on Saturday increases early release credits for 76,000 inmates, including violent and repeat offenders, while further reducing the population of what was once the largest correctional system in State of the country.

More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be entitled to good behavior credits that will reduce their sentences by a third instead of the fifth that had been in effect since 2017.

This includes nearly 20,000 inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole.

More than 10,000 detainees convicted of a second serious but non-violent offense under the state’s “three strikes” law will be released after serving half of their sentences. This is an increase from the current time served credit of one-third of their sentence.

The same increase in release time will apply to nearly 2,900 non-violent third strikers, the correctional service has projected.

Also beginning Saturday, all minimum security inmates in labor camps, including those in fire camps, will be entitled to the same month of early release for each month they spend in the camp, regardless of the severity of the condition. their crime.

The changes were approved this week by the state’s Administrative Law Office, with little public notice. They were submitted and approved within three weeks as emergency regulations.

“The aim is to increase the incentives for the incarcerated population to adopt good behavior and follow the rules while serving their sentence, and to participate in rehabilitation and education programs, which will lead to safer prisons. Department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in a statement.

“In addition, these changes would help reduce the prison population by allowing those in prison to return home earlier,” she said.

She provided emergency regulations and estimates of the number of detainees they will assign at the request of the Associated Press, but the ministry has otherwise made no public announcement.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation which represents victims of crime, said the idea that credits are for good behavior is a misnomer.

“You don’t have to be good to get good time credits. People who lose good time credits on misconduct get them back, they don’t stay gone, ”he said. “They could be a useful tool in managing the population if they had more teeth in them. But they don’t. They are really just a gift. “

In general, detainees should not be released sooner, he argued.

The prison population has fallen by more than 21,000 from the estimated 117,000 inmates in state prisons before the coronavirus pandemic, but in part because around 10,000 jailed inmates were temporarily held in county jails.

Officials announced in mid-April that they would close a second prison due to the shrinking population, keeping the promise of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.

The California Correctional Center in Susanville will close by July 2022, while officials announced last fall that the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, east of San Francisco, will close by October.

But the population has been in decline for a decade, from when the state began keeping lower-ranking criminals in county jails instead of state jails to alleviate overcrowding.

The trend continued when voters in 2014 reduced sentences for property and drug crimes and approved early parole for most inmates two years later.

Republican State Senator Jim Nielsen, who once headed the state parole board, criticized Newsom for this time acting unilaterally.

“He does it on his own authority, instead of the will of the people through his elected representatives or directly through his own votes,” Nielsen said. “This is what I call Newsom’s bad behavior leave. He puts us all at greater risk and it seems like there is no limit to how much he wants to do this.”

Simas said the ministry gained its authority as part of the rule-making process. Emergency regulations take effect on Saturday, but the ministry is due to submit standing regulations next year, which will then be considered with a public hearing and the opportunity for public comment.

Newsom faces a recall election this fall, in part driven by those upset by its handling of the pandemic, including sweeping orders that have shut down the economy for months.

But many Democratic lawmakers and rights groups have called for more releases or shorter sentences. Californians United for Responsible Budget, for example, said earlier in April that the state should close at least 10 more of its 35 prisons.

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