About 100 people gathered in Sacramento on Friday to offer ideas and concerns about new regulations that have overhauled California’s parole system, an effort that will allow thousands more inmates to be considered for early release.
The group gathered outside a meeting where corrections officials were to hear public feedback, the first such meeting since state regulators gave the guidelines initial approval in April. The event drew criminal justice reform advocates, crime victim and public safety officials from across the state.
The regulations are being used to implement Proposition 57, last fall’s sweeping effort to provide new ways for inmates to earn time credits toward their sentences for good behavior and for enrolling in certain career, rehabilitation and education programs.
The ballot measure also allows the State Board of Parole Hearings to grant early release to a new population of inmates: those whose primary sentences are for crimes not designated as “violent” under California law and have served the full term of their sentences.
More than 50 reform advocates — including former inmates and crime victims — said at a small rally before the meeting that state prisoners should be allowed to receive credits retroactively, for rehabilitation and work-study programs they completed before Proposition 57 went into effect.
They also called on corrections officials to extend the new law’s benefits to those sentenced for a third offense under the state’s three-strikes law and to prisoners serving sentences for crimes they committed as youths.
“Speak with fire, speak with passion, because [inmates] can’t speak for themselves,” said Jay Jordan with Californians for Safety and Justice, who said coalition members had sent 10,000 letters in support of such changes.
Amika Sergejev with the Young Women’s Freedom Network in San Francisco said the regulations will block any benefit to some offenders who weren’t supposed to be excluded under Proposition 57.
Sergejev, who said she served seven years for manslaughter after killing a 65-year-old man in a car crash, grew personally from completing programs while incarcerated.
“I am here really representing the sisters that I left behind,” she said.
But crime victims also gave a glimpse into the tough balance that corrections officials have had to strike with the new regulations.
Linda Wilson, who said she escaped an abusive partner, shed tears at the meeting while relating that her abuser continued to torment and threaten her from prison. She said some mentally ill and abusive offenders cannot be reformed and should not be allowed to manipulate the system.
“A second striker who does the same crime against the same person shows a pattern,” she said.
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