By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Blaring TV commercials, keyboard typing, loud coughing, street noise and laughter.
These noises were among the many interruptions participants faced in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation teleconference Thursday.
The department conducted the teleconference to allow public commenters to voice support or opposition to CDCR’s plan to permanently enact emergency regulations adopted during the pandemic that increased the earning rates of good conduct credits for certain inmates, providing a chance for earlier release.
In 2016, voters passed Proposition 57, which incentivized inmates to participate in rehabilitation programs by providing credit-earning opportunities. The program allows inmates who commit nonviolent crimes to collect credits faster than inmates who commit violent crimes.
Proposition 57 also allows offenders who committed nonviolent crimes to be eligible for a parole process, and those who “demonstrate that their release would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community,” could be eligible for release after serving the term of their primary offense, according to CDCR.
During the pandemic, CDCR adopted emergency rules to increase the rate of good conduct credits for inmates not sentenced to death or life without parole. The department is now aiming to make those changes permanent, CalMatters reported.
CDCR held a public comment session Thursday, where residents could call in and voice their opinions on the proposed regulations. Callers spoke both for and against the regulations, with several sharing personal stories of incarcerated family members benefitting from the program.
Public commenters, however, were often interrupted during Thursday’s session by an array of background noises, including hairdryers and toilets flushing, as well as conversations among other callers. The operator of the call had to continually stop to mute all participants, then unmute all callers so that commenters could continue talking. There were many times commenters’ voices were drowned out by background noise.
Several public commenters opposed to the regulations brought up the recent mass shooting in Sacramento, which killed six individuals and injured 12. Last week, the Associated Press reported that one of the suspects arrested in connection with the shooting served less than half of his 10-year sentence because Proposition 57 provided an opportunity for early release.
Several public commenters during Thursday’s call asked regulators not to expand the regulations, saying it would allow offenders out of prison who could threaten public safety.
“The way these regulations are written and the way the credit will be calculated are not beneficial to public safety, nor are they helpful to inmates, who will use them solely for the purpose of early release,” Christine Ward, executive director of Crime Victims Action Alliance, said Thursday.
However, supporters of advancing the regulations said that the programs provide incentives for incarcerated individuals to take part in their rehabilitation. Several callers shared stories of family members and loved ones who are currently earning credits through the program.
Several members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition called in Thursday to voice support, including one caller who shared that when he was incarcerated, the credit program was his “catalyst to change.” Other supporters said the program helps to create stability for individuals before they are released back into the public.
“Credit earnings [are a] really important tool to encourage incarcerated people to participate in programs and focus on their personal growth and healing,” Emily Wonder, a policy and advocacy engagement coordinator at the Young Women’s Freedom Center, said. “Encouraging rehabilitation helps people to become the best version of themselves, creating stability in their lives after release, and in turn, helping to keep our communities safe.”
The regular interruptions during the call prompted responses from several Republican lawmakers, including Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita.
“CDCR is considering releasing violent and dangerous felons early and they can’t even run a conference call?” Sen. Wilk said in a statement. “This is like something you’d see in an SNL skit, it’s unbelievable.”
Following the call, CDCR released a statement to FOX40 saying they had received more than 3,300 comments as of Thursday afternoon and said they “apologize for the inconvenience.” The department said they can “assure that people were heard, all comments were recorded and will be included in the next steps in the rulemaking process.”