Bill 18 x3 – A Modest Move Towards Long Overdue Parole Reform in CA

Bill 18 x3 – A Modest Move Towards Long Overdue Parole Reform in CA

April 21, 2012 | Christopher Hartney, Senior Researcher, NCCD and Hunter Smith

On January 25, 2010, Senate Bill 18 x3 took effect, introducing a number of changes to California incarceration and parole policy. This legislation authorizes Non-Revocable Parole (NRP) for offenders who meet certain criteria, raises the minimum dollar value for certain property crimes to qualify as felonies (meaning some low-level property crimes that used to be categorized as felonies are now misdemeanors), and increases the availability of credits that inmates can earn toward earlier release.

On January 25, 2010, Senate Bill 18 x3 took effect, introducing a number of changes to California incarceration and parole policy. This legislation authorizes Non-Revocable Parole (NRP) for offenders who meet certain criteria, raises the minimum dollar value for certain property crimes to qualify as felonies (meaning some low-level property crimes that used to be categorized as felonies are now misdemeanors), and increases the availability of credits that inmates can earn toward earlier release.

NRP is a type of unsupervised parole that, unlike regular parole, cannot be violated. Persons under NRP are no longer under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), they are not assigned parole officers, and they do not need to notify the police of their whereabouts. In fact, NRP only resembles regular parole in so far as law enforcement retains the right to warrantless search. For example, if a person on regular parole were found carrying a knife with a blade longer than two inches, he would have his parole revoked and be sent back to prison. If a person on NRP were found carrying the same knife, he would not be subject to parole revocation. If a person on NRP commits a new crime, new charges must be filed.

Only prisoners convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual, low-level crimes who have been assessed and determined to not be a serious risk to the public are eligible for NRP. In addition, they must have acceptable behavior in prison and must have made progress with any substance abuse issues. Ensuring that appropriate aftercare services are in place is likely to reduce future serious or violent offenses.

This legislation is a small step. Of the current 167,000 prisoners in the CDCR, the SB 18 legislation will result in the early release of at most 6,500 prisoners by the end of 2010 (1,500 have been released so far). Further, the increases in felony property thresholds are not as extreme as they may appear. Many of the thresholds have never been adjusted for inflation.

Nevertheless, considering the state budget crisis and California’s bloated prisons, SB 18 is likely to have some significant benefits. NRP is projected to save the state $100 million in 2010 alone. The legislation will also help California meet the Federal Court’s order to cut its prison population by 46,000 over the next two years. On August 4, 2009, a three-judge federal panel ordered California to cut its prison population and, in all likelihood, the order will be upheld by the US Supreme Court this summer.

More manageable caseloads allow parole officers to focus on the higher-risk parolees. Before SB 18, the average caseload for parole workers was an unmanageable 70, which will be reduced to 45.

Although some law enforcement officials oppose SB 18, asserting that it is too lenient, the legislation is in reality a modest move towards long overdue parole reform. Further, given the massive state budget deficit, moral and legal concerns about prison conditions, and polls showing public support of system change, SB 18 may be a precursor to more sweeping parole and prison reform legislation in the upcoming years.

More information regarding SB 18 x3 and NRP is provided at the links below:

http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Parole/_pdf/Non_Revocable_Parole.pdf

http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Parole/Non_Revocable_Parole/Non-Revocable_Parole_FAQs.html

Christopher Hartney is a Senior Researcher at NCCD.