Early Prison Release Laws & Procedures:
In January 2015, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began a new parole determination process after a federal court ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding. As a result, inmates characterized as “nonviolent second-strikers” (NVSS) became eligible for early parole consideration. In November 2016, Proposition 57 was then passed with the promise that “nonviolent” inmates who “turn their lives around” in prison could also earn early parole under a new “nonviolent parole review” (NVPR).
Qualifying NVSS and NVPR inmates must not currently be serving a sentence for a crime legally categorized as a violent felony and must not be required to register as sex offenders. NVSS inmates must have served (or be within 12 months of serving) only 50 percent of their sentence, while NVPR inmates may be paroled after serving the base term for the principal offense and may earn additional conduct credits. The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) determines whether NVSS or NVPR offenders would pose an unreasonable risk to public safety based on a paper review of prior criminal history, facts of the current commitment offense, behavior in prison, rehabilitation efforts, whether the inmate has any medical condition which might affect the ability to re-offend, and written statements.
Unlike parole hearings – where the prosecution, defense attorney, and victim may appear – there is no public hearing for these BPH administrative reviews. Additionally, no evidence-based risk assessment is conducted prior to consideration of early release to indicate an inmate’s safety risk.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office takes an active role in evaluating NVSS and NVPR cases. For inmates who appear to pose a danger to the public, the office writes opposition letters to BPH with an overview of the inmate’s criminal history and current commitment offense, and an opinion on the public safety risk if an inmate is granted early release. NVPR cases are especially concerning since prosecutors are denied access to records of the inmate’s behavior behind bars, which is critical to rehabilitation, and do not have a right to appeal an early parole decision.
Many of the offenders who are granted early prison release have violent and lengthy criminal histories. District Attorney Thien Ho feels it is important for the public to be aware of the so-called nonviolent offenders being released early from prison into our neighborhoods.