California DAs Announce Help For Crime Victims As State Releases Violent Offenders Early

New Policy To Release 76,000 Inmates Early Includes Some Sentenced For Murder, Rape, Child Molestation

This Thursday, May 21, 2020, photo shows a parked car with a broken front window after a smash-and-grab break-in in Los Angeles. 

(The Center Square) – Several California district attorneys say they want to expand help for victims of crimes in the wake of a new state policy that allows for the early release of roughly 76,000 violent inmates, some of whom were sentenced for murder, rape and child molestation.

In May, 44 California district attorneys sued state prison officials in an attempt to halt new rules that were proposed allowing for the early release of violent criminals.

“Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening sentences as much as 50%, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said when announcing the lawsuit. “This lawsuit asks the court to enjoin CDCR from awarding these credits unless and until these regulations are exposed to a fair, honest and transparent debate, where the public has input on dramatic changes made through the regulatory process.”

The changes come after voters passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. Under Proposition 57, CDCR was tasked with incentivizing rehabilitation through a credit-earning program for sustained good behavior, an in-prison program and activities participation. Those incarcerated could increase their Good Conduct Credit earning in the program through a Milestone Completion Credit, Rehabilitative Achievement Credit, and Educational Merit Credit.

“Earning additional credits can move up parole consideration of people convicted of nonviolent crimes who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense, and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community,” CDCR states on its website.

The agency followed all policies and procedures by the Office of Administrative Law to implement the program, it said in a statement earlier this year, adding that it would “continue to work with our partners to promote rehabilitation and accountability in a manner consistent with public safety.”

The new rules grant violent criminals one day of good conduct credit for every two days served, compared to one day of credit for every four days under the previous policy. Non-violent second- and third-strikers under the new policy will get one day of credit for every day served instead of one day of credit for every three days served.

“Earning additional credits can move up parole consideration of people convicted of nonviolent crimes who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense, and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community,” the department’s website states.

The state Administrative Law agency implemented the changes under the auspices of “emergency regulations” without allowing for any public comment, input, opposition or support. Next year, it would be required to submit permanent regulations and hold public hearings, allowing the public to provide comments.

Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen, who previously headed the state parole board, criticized the state for making such a unilateral decision bypassing normal procedure.

Referring to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Nielsen said, “He’s doing it on his own authority, instead of the will of the people through their elected representatives or directly through their own votes. This is what I call Newsom’s time off for bad behavior. He’s putting us all at greater risk and there seems to be no end to the degree to which he wants to do that.”

According to a Public Policy Institute of California report, “In 2020, California saw a troubling rise of more than 500 homicides, the largest jump in state history since record-keeping began in 1960. Victims were predominantly Black and Latino, male, and killed by guns on our streets, parking lots, or in vehicles.”

Increased crime in California has been listed as a high priority among those committed to recalling Newsom. In July, responding to increased criticism, Newsom held a public safety roundtable with 13 mayors and signed a law designed to crack down on retail theft. His office said in July, “Over the past three decades, crime rates in California have dropped dramatically.”

Data released by the state indicates the opposite is true. From 2019 to 2020, California experienced the highest increase in homicides in 30 years.

According to preliminary death certificate data published by the California Department of Public Health, there were 2,300 homicides in California in 2020, a 27% increase – the largest year-over-year increase the state has seen in 30 years.

Likewise, while the Los Angeles Police Department has lost nearly 600 officers since 2019, the number of people who were shot increased by 40% from the previous year.

Schubert, who is running for California Attorney General, organized a news conference this week to announced the crime victim initiative. She said inmates being released early “devastated the lives of so many” in California, the victims, families “and entire communities.”

“They’re getting out for doing nothing – no rehab at all. Can you imagine? Getting out for doing nothing?” she asked.

“It’s a get-out-jail-free card,” she said, referring to the game, Monopoly. “The consequences of crime are real. Why are the victims [in addition to 45 county district attorneys] joining the lawsuit? This is not a game.”

El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, and president of the California District Attorney’s Association, said the regulations and Attorney General Rob Bonta and his office are being “disrespectful of crime victims.”

Crime victim Dena Love, who spoke to participants at the Wednesday news conference via Zoom, said the new regulations send the message “that criminals have more rights than victims”.

Another victim, Cynthia Biletnikoff, said her grandfather was stabbed 63 times and “his eyes were taken out” in a brutal 1990s murder. His killer is eligible for release under the new regulations. The felon was also allegedly caught selling methamphetamine and cocaine while in prison, she said.

Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said in a press release, “Our priority is the public safety of our community and the constitutional rights of crime victims and the early release of dangerous offenders threatens the safety, security, and rights of those impacted by crime.”

Her office “remains committed to assisting crime victims,” she said, and encouraged those seeking assistance to contact the Solano County DA’s victim witness unit at 707-784-6844. Victims of crimes in Solano County are also encouraged to register with CDCR’s victim witness services at https://www.cdcr.ca.gov.

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