BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Last summer around 8,000 inmates across the state were eligible to leave prison early due to COVID-19 concerns. Still, state officials want to continue to trim California's prison population, so now more than 70,000 inmates will have an opportunity to reduce their sentence.
It's important to note that this won't happen overnight, and could take months to years. But kern county’s district attorney says those who are not eligible to earn good behavior credits to shorten their sentences are those on death row and those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. However, it does include a number of violent and repeat felons.
“10 years ago, the prison population was 175,000 people, last year before COVID started the prison population was 130,000 and now the prison population is 90,000.”
It’s a downward trend that’s expected to continue in the coming years. 76,000 inmates across the state are now eligible for the opportunity to leave prison early. It comes as a way to reduce the number of people in the largest state correctional system.
“Does this mean all 76,000 of the 90,000 will be released? No, but what this means is that they can earn credits toward release at a much quicker pace.”
In a statement from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the press secretary tells 23ABC, “this is not an early release program; this is an expansion of good conduct credits that the population must earn through participation in rehabilitative programs and sustained good behavior.”
“The credits they get will be if they don't get other crimes. And if they do commit other crimes. They still get a chance to earn credits back,” said District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer.
These credits can shorten sentences for more than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes which include 20,000 inmates who are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole.
“It applies to violent felons, murderers, rapists, child molesters,” said Zimmer.
Zimmer says what people may consider violent on the streets, is different than what the penal code considers a violent felony.
“A crime can involve violence but not be a violent felony. So yes, you are a violent felon but the current crime you're in on is not a violent felony.”
Zimmer also says that while not all prisoners are from Kern County, this does have the chance to impact our prison population.
“Certainly, it'll affect the number of prisoners in our prisons in Kern County and our inmates who were commitments here that will be paroled to this county.”
It is important to note that this will not include inmates from our county jails, but rather those in state prisons. Now the CDRH says the regulations are still subject to final approval, and again, the regulatory process allows for public input.