A plan to expand good behavior credit rules that could speed the release of some California inmates has become a hotly debated topic in recent months, leading to contentious back and forth between judges.
In December, a judge temporarily suspended the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s plan to expand good behavior credit rules for second-strike nonviolent inmates. Then last month the temporary suspension ended, but four days later it was reinstated.
Alarmism has led to a campaign against this vital step to reduce the number of people incarcerated. The plan to increase good behavior credits has become an empty carrot to incarcerated people preparing for release and waiting to be reunited with family, friends and community.
A study by Stanford law professor A. Mitchell Polinsky shows that encouraging inmates to buy less time is proven to encourage good behavior while incarcerated.
Polinsky found that earning reduced time is a better incentive than earning prison privileges. Earning good behavior credits can deter incarcerated people from committing crimes in the future while encouraging greater participation in prison rehabilitation and education programs.
The new Credit for Good Behavior rules are a great way to encourage good behavior, reduce the prison population and reduce prison costs, which is crucial in a system that costs an estimated $13.3 billion to operate. per year.
The new early release rules would reduce the prison population, an issue the state has been working on for years. With fewer people incarcerated, the costs of running prisons would be reduced. According to the Office of the Legislative Analyst, the annual cost to California of keeping an individual in jail is over $106,000.
The government can redirect the money to better help those affected by the criminal justice system by providing employment and education opportunities and housing assistance. When we invest in formerly incarcerated people, we are taking vital steps to end mass incarceration. When we support formerly incarcerated people, we support their families, their communities and their future.
And that’s what Californians want.
The recent court decision to suspend the planned expansion of good behavior credits is an affront to the will of voters, who overwhelmingly passed Proposition 57 in favor of expanding credit earning opportunities.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Prop. 57 “gave the CDCR authority to make changes to the credit to reduce the prison population and incentivize incarcerated persons”.
For decades, state and local politicians have called for prison reform through rehabilitation programs, and California has positioned itself as a leader among those reforms.
But 28 of the 58 California district attorneys blocking the plan signify a lack of will to implement something that could benefit society by reducing the prison population and redirecting millions of dollars. Yet those in the California criminal justice system who oppose increased good behavior credits are actively choosing to keep pardons out of reach for those who do everything right while incarcerated.
This broken promise is undermining the will of California voters and alienating incarcerated people from their families, a stark setback for a state whose leaders champion it as having “one of the most progressive criminal legal systems” in the country.
The break needs to be lifted and good behavior credits need to be extended to provide incarcerated people with a resource that will bring them a little closer to home.
Officials must not choose to succumb to fearmongering and ignore a promise made to the thousands of people behind bars in California.
Chala Bonner is the civic engagement organizer for the Safe Return Project.