California prison officials say 5,000 to 6,000 inmates serving extended sentences for second-time, nonviolent felony convictions will be eligible for parole next year under new procedures ordered by a federal court to reduce prison overcrowding, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A lawyer for prisoners whose suit led to the court order said the state rules on parole were one-sided: An inmate up for parole review will have no right to appear in person before the parole board or to review the evidence or argue in favor of release, while prosecutors and crime victims will be able to submit written comments opposing parole.
A three-judge federal court has ordered California to reduce its prison population to about 110,000 — 7,000 below the current level, and 30,000 below the level in 2011 — to bring inmate health care up to constitutional standards. The court ordered the new parole procedures in January and, when the state was slow to respond, demanded prompt compliance in an order Nov. 14. The new rules take effect Jan. 1. The inmates are “second-strikers” under California's 1994 three-strikes law, which increased sentences for criminals with previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. A second “strike” is punishable by twice the normal prison term for the offense. Third-strikers convicted of any felony can be locked up for 25 years to life.