California corrections officials adopted new rules that aim to trim the state’s prison population by 9,500 inmates in four years, the Associated Press reports. They include steps like reducing inmates’ sentences up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs such as alcohol and substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice, and parenting classes. Virtually any inmate except those on death row or those serving life-without-parole sentences is eligible.
It’s the latest step in a long drive to lower the prison population dramatically in response to federal court orders in lawsuits by prison advocates. The changes follow voters’ approval of Proposition 57 in November. The initiative lets certain felons seek parole more quickly and gave corrections officials broad discretion to grant early release credits. “I think that it’s a monumental change for the organization and I think across the state, across the nation, I don’t think that anybody has altered how they are incarcerating offenders as much as what Prop 57 does,” said Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan. The goal, he said, is to encourage inmates to start “doing something with their incarceration and not just sitting on their bunks.” Police and prosecutors fought the ballot initiative, arguing that it will release dangerous offenders sometimes years earlier than called for in their sentences. It will put convicts more quickly into county probation systems that already are stretched.