Proposition 57 creates opportunities for the release of thousands of state prisoners through the expansion of parole eligibility and good conduct and programming credits. When 64% of voters approved the measure in November 2016, there were few details about how it would be implemented. During the 2017–18 budget process, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) outlined implementation plans and population estimates, and now we have a better sense of the potential impact of this measure on the prison population.
Proposition 57 will significantly reduce the number of prison inmates—and, in combination with other statewide criminal justice reforms over the past six years, it will enable the system to keep its inmate population below the court-ordered cap of 137.5% of design capacity. Overall, Proposition 57 is expected to reduce the population by more than 2,600 inmates in 2017‒18, with a net cost savings of nearly $40 million. Long-term estimates put the population impact at 11,500 by 2020–21, for an annual savings of more than $180 million.
CDCR’s new parole regulations exclude prisoners who are serving a term for a violent felony (as defined by Penal Code 667.5), required to register as sex offenders under Penal Code 290, serving life sentences, or on death row. Eligible offenders receive parole consideration after serving full sentences for their primary offenses (their longest sentences). These offenders are no longer required to serve sentence enhancements for gang activity or prior prison terms. The state estimates that this new process—which went into effect on July 1—will reduce the prison population by almost 500 offenders in fiscal year 2017–18.
CDCR has also created additional educational and rehabilitative programming and increased the amount of credits inmates can earn for both good behavior and program completion. For example, in 2015 there were 95 career technical education programs (including training in auto repair, home construction and maintenance, and office technology); now there are 197 programs, with new classes in almost every career tech area.
Good behavior credits were expanded for almost all eligible inmates on May 1, 2017. The expanded programming credits will take effect August 1, 2017. The state estimates that these additional credit earning opportunities will reduce the prison population by more than 2,100 in the 2017–18 fiscal year.
State officials believe that Proposition 57 will allow them to keep the prison population below the cap while maintaining public safety. In addition to monitoring Proposition 57’s effect on public safety, recidivism, and costs, corrections officials and policymakers should pay close attention to the supply, demand, and—most importantly—effectiveness of the education and rehabilitation programs offered to inmates to ensure that the measure’s goals are realized.