By Jason Hoppin in the Monterey County Herald on 02/23/15
Sacramento – With an eye on reducing the population in California’s overcrowded prisons, Assemblymember Mark Stone on Monday announced a new bill that could triple early-release credits for some inmates.
If passed into law, AB 512 would increase the credits inmates can earn for participating in rehabilitative programs, such as educational classes and vocational training, to up to 18 weeks per year. Currently, inmates can earn up to six weeks.
“We need to make sure that people in prison who will someday return to their communities have the opportunity to learn job and life skills that will help them stay out of trouble when they are released,” said Stone, D-Scotts Valley. “This bill provides inmates a stronger incentive to complete programs that have been proven to help reduce recidivism.”
The aim is to slow the revolving prison door by giving inmates tools to better adjust to life on the outside once their sentences are over. The bill would not apply to serious sex offenders, or inmates serving life without the possibility of parole or on death row.
Such programs are offered through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, though programs vary by prison.
At Salinas Valley State Prison, inmates may earn credits through educational programs, and officials there plan to open an in-prison substance abuse program and vocational training, according to Lt. Eduardo Mazariegos, a spokesman with the prison. The prison also offers 12-step, religious, arts and community-based programs.
According to a 2012 state report, 70.9 percent of Monterey County inmates committed another crime within three years after being released, higher than the statewide figure of 63.7 percent.
Stone cited figures showing inmates who completed substance abuse programs returned to prison at less than half the rate of other inmates. And just 5.4 percent of inmates who completed San Quentin State Prison’s Prison University Project were back behind bars within a year.
Currently, California’s prison population sits at 136 percent of capacity. Persistent overcrowding has led to rafts of litigation and serious reform efforts by Sacramento lawmakers, including 2011’s AB 109, which sent many less-serious offenders to local jails to serve out their sentences.
So far, California voters have showed support for those moves, even voting to roll back part of the state’s Three Strikes law. In November, they also passed Prop 47, which reclassified six non-violent felonies as misdemeanors, leading to the release of hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates statewide.