As many as 4,000 California inmates serving life sentences for nonviolent convictions will have a chance at parole under the state’s decision to let stand a judge’s ruling saying those prisoners are eligible for freedom under a voter-approved law, the Associated Press reports. The state will craft new regulations by January to include the repeat offenders in early release provisions. Gov. Jerry Brown will not appeal a court ruling that the state is illegally excluding the nonviolent career criminals from parole under the 2016 ballot measure he championed to reduce the prison population and encourage rehabilitation. The state parole board estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 nonviolent third-strikers could be affected, said corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters, “but they would have to go through rigorous public safety screenings and a parole board hearing before any decision is made.”
It’s the second such loss for the Democratic governor, who leaves office soon after the new rules are due. Another judge ruled in February that the state must consider earlier parole for potentially thousands of sex offenders. The administration is fighting that ruling, which undercuts promises Brown made to exclude sex offenders from earlier release. Prosecutors warned throughout the Proposition 57 campaign that third-strikers would unintentionally fall under the measure’s constitutional amendment, said California District Attorneys Association spokeswoman Jennifer Jacobs. “There is no question that the voters who approved Proposition 57 intended (inmates) serving Three Strikes indeterminate sentences to be eligible for early parole consideration,” the appeals court ruled, adding, “There is strong evidence the voters who approved Proposition 57 sought to provide relief to nonviolent offenders.” Michael Romano of the Stanford Three Strikes Project called the administration’s decision to comply “monumental.” Among the 4,000 inmates he estimated will be eligible for parole are clients serving life terms for stealing a bicycle, possessing less than half a gram of methamphetamine, stealing two bottles of liquor or shoplifting shampoo.