Almost four decades after he signed a law mandating strict sentences for the most serious crimes, California Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday moved to ease its effect, proposing inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses be given a chance at early release, reports the Los Angeles Times. “Let’s take the basic structure of our criminal law and say, when you’ve served fully the primary sentence, you can be considered for parole,” Brown said, announcing a November ballot initiative to streamline rules he estimated could affect thousands of inmates. Rather than change sentencing policy, the proposal would allow corrections officials to award credits more easily toward early release based on an inmate’s good behavior, efforts to rehabilitate or participation in prison education programs.
The effort responds to the lingering effects of a 2009 federal order for California to reduce its prison population, Brown said. He made clear that it also is meant to improve a criminal justice system that offers too few chances at rehabilitation. “By allowing parole consideration if they do good things,” the governor said of some inmates, “they will then have an incentive … to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.” Brown was joined by a handful of prominent law enforcement and religious leaders, who praised Brown’s focus on weeding out those serving time for nonviolent offenses. “I think this will effectively open bed space for those who richly deserve to be there,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said. The initiative also would authorize the state parole board to consider early release for nonviolent inmates who complete a full sentence for their primary offense.