Voters Want Rehabilitation; What Prop 57 Credits Should Look Like

Last week, an estimated 30,000 Californians rallied on the steps of the State Capitol to support criminal justice reform.

Common, J. Cole, and Van Jones Step Up to Support Criminal Justice Reform in California

And this Friday — September 1st — hundreds more will rally and host a press conference in front of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation public hearing on Proposition 57 Implementation.

It should come as no surprise that residents of the Golden State would come out in large numbers to enthusiastically support reforming one of the largest and most expensive prison systems in the nation.

This past November, 64% of voters backed Proposition 57, a ballot initiative intended to offer incentives to incarcerated men and women, who educate themselves and work on making life changing improvements while serving their sentence.

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The passage of Prop 57 presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and transform the lives of tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals.

Unfortunately, while well-intended, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s recently released draft of legislation regulations fall short, and fail to implement the will of voters across the state.

Luckily, there is still an opportunity to change course. We see three ways to ensure that Proposition 57 is implemented in a way that maximizes the positive impact:

First, Earned Time and Good Conduct Credits should apply retroactively for all programming types.

There are thousands of incarcerated men and women in California who have spent years pursuing personal growth and educational opportunities. Their path toward accountability, redemption, and transformation should be rewarded. The proposed implementation plan does apply some education-related credits retroactively, but far too many critical programs like drug treatment, volunteer activities, or self-help classes do not qualify for retroactivity. As is, the proposal will cause individuals to unnecessarily retake classes, increasing the cost of programming and excluding needy men and women from already over-subscribed programs. We should maximize the opportunity to reduce overcrowding by applying the benefits of Prop 57 to individuals with a demonstrated commitment to transformation. We must also keep the cost of programming down by making sure open spots in classes go to those who have yet to take them. Applying Prop 57 credits retroactively, would do both.

Second, credits should be awarded at the same rate to all incarcerated men and women who show they are fit for reintegration back into society.

Prop 57 was intended to give incarcerated people the opportunity to reap the benefits of this award and to encourage them to participate in rehabilitative programming that will increase their chances of success upon re-entry. Arguably, it is in the best interest of society for those who have committed violent or serious felonies to take rehabilitative courses, since their crimes caused the most damage to public welfare. Therefore, it is imperative that they be given every available incentive to rehabilitate themselves.

Third, we should award credits to youth offenders.

The current implementation proposal neglects to award any credits to youth offenders who, due to other changes in legislation, are eligible for parole after 25 years of incarceration regardless of their original sentence. These individuals, some of whom came to prison as young as 14 years old, will benefit the most from the rehabilitative programs and educational opportunities. Brain science shows that our brains are not fully formed until we are 25 and our youth benefit dramatically from participating in programming in the prisons. Contrary to popular belief, youth with life sentences actually present the lowest public safety risk to society; with less than a 1% recidivism rate based on over 700 of them being paroled into our communities so far. We should not arbitrarily exclude youth offenders from the benefits of Prop 57.

Take the case of Michael Mendoza, now a policy associate at #cut50, who was sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile for his role in a murder. A young man once filled with hopelessness, rage, and anger, Michael found purpose and hope after the passage of SB9. Michael’s journey to redemption was paved by rehabilitative programming and education, which equipped him with the necessary skills to transform his life and contribute to society. He now fights to give thousands of incarcerated men and women hope to walk their own journey toward healing and redemption.

The interests of all Californians are best served when our prisons don’t just warehouse or punish people but provide incarcerated individuals with tools for personal transformation and growth. That’s why thousands of individuals have submitted public comment expressing their support for the fair implementation of Prop 57.

CDCR should listen closely.

Jessica Jackson Sloan is the Mayor of Mill Valley and co-founder of #cut50, a nationwide bipartisan effort to dramatically reduce America’s incarceration rate while keeping communities safe.

Alexandra Mallick is the California Policy Director for #cut50.

A national bipartisan initiative to smartly and safely reduce our incarcerated population. Co-Founded by @VanJones68, a program of the Dream Corps.