De-Bug Families Deliver Message to Prison Officials: Fulfill The Promise of Prop 57!

And Bring Hundreds of Letters from Incarcerated Loved Ones

Editor's Note:

On September 1, 2017 dozens of families from San Jose bused to Sacramento to tell prison officials to fulfill the promise of Proposition 57. Read our organizational statement to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calling on them to expand who is afforded sentence reduction possibilities.

Dear Director Lockwood,

We are writing to you from Silicon Valley De-Bug, an organization that works with families with loved ones who are facing charges in the criminal justice, juvenile justice, and immigration systems to impact the outcomes of their cases through their active participation in their loved ones’ court cases.  Our organization is part of a larger coalition of organizations who supported Proposition 57, from its conception to passage, from drafting to signature gathering, door knocking, and fundraising.  

The families we work with and support know deeply the experience of incarceration – they are husbands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, grandparents who support their loved ones doing time on the inside.  They support their loved one’s growth, reflection, and rehabilitation to the best of their capacities – by making long trips to visit them, writing them, sending them books, praying with them over the phone, communicating with their counselors, doing homework, among many things.  When their loved ones come home, even if it takes years, they gather their larger community to welcome them and support their transition back to society.

It is from this place of experience that we offer our suggestions to the draft regulations for the implementation of Proposition 57.

Our organization educated and organized our community on Prop 57 with the belief that it would help those impacted by incarceration, lower recidivism, and provide rehabilitation opportunities to all. While many of these regulations are good and show the promise of Proposition 57, we are concerned about the regulations as set because it excludes certain populations and are not in keeping with the fully intent of the law. 

We also believe that the proposed regulations do not fully measure up to the standards set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act by the Office of Administrative Law.  It is your responsibility as the state agency responsible for enforcing Proposition 57 to adhere to these standards -- necessity, consistency, clarity, non-duplication, authority and reference -- in responding to the public’s comments about your proposed regulations. 

As you state in your proposed regulations, “the California Constitution was amended to specifically require the department to promulgate regulations in furtherance of the Act’s parole and credit provisions.”  To summarize, we are most concerned of the following that we believe are not in furtherance of the stated intent and purpose of Proposition 57:

  • Exclusion of non-violent three strikers in the early parole consideration process
  • Definition of ‘full term’ that excludes pre-sentencing credits
  • Non-retroactivity of credits
  • Limiting youth offenders eligible for SB 260 and 261 to earn credit towards their youth offender parole date
  • Excluding certain individuals serving life without parole sentences and serving the death penalty from earning credit.

In addition, the standard of clarity for those “directly affected” by the Act has not been met. We have received feedback from numerous incarcerated individuals and their families regarding the extreme confusion surrounding the availability, eligibility and implementation of programs enumerated by Proposition 57.  

Specifically, here are our concerns regarding the proposed regulations and suggested changes that will then meet the intent, purpose and spirit of Proposition 57. 

Section: Parole Consideration for Determinately-Sentenced Nonviolent Offenders. Excluding Nonviolent Three Strikes.

  1. Include individuals serving three-strike sentences for non-violent felonies in the early parole consideration process.  We believe there are no grounds to exclude people with three-strike sentences for non-violent offenses from the Proposition 57 non-violent parole process.  Proposition 57 certainly empowered the CDCR to develop how the parole process was to take place, but not who to exclude. The rigorous public safety screening already exists the mechanism that the hearing officer can use to determine the individual’s risk of violence to the community.  Excluding them goes against the stated intent and purpose of Proposition 57. The references stated in this section do not justify their exclusion.

Even the courts are clear about who is eligible for Proposition 57. In Brown v. Superior Court, June 6, 2016, the California Supreme Court clearly stated that parole eligibility under Prop. 57 applies, "only to prisoners convicted of non‐violent felonies."  Excluding those with non-violent felonies does not further Prop 57; it limits it.

  1. “Full term” should include sentencing credits earned during an individual’s time as they await trial or plea. Not including their sentencing credits as part of the full term can discourage a detainee from fully addressing all issues in his/ her case.  In our experience, we have seen individuals await trial for years because of a variety of reasons, including the slowdown of the courts. During that time, we have seen individuals take advantage of their time inside the jails to rehabilitate themselves through programs.  Not including sentencing credits is counter to the stated intent and purpose of Proposition 57.  The references stated in this section do not justify the exclusion of pre-sentencing credits.
  2. Family and/or community support should be taken into account during the parole offender review process. Numerous studies have indicated that family and community connection and reunification are essential in both reducing recidivism and establishing and implementing successful re-entry plans.  We encourage the parole process to include any letters of support from family and/or community members who have been supporting the individual through their incarceration and will also be there when their loved ones return to the community.   
  3. Those facing parole should be given the opportunity to review his/ her file to ensure completeness and accuracy.  For example, we have families who have told us that certificates of completion of programs are sometimes not included in their loved ones’ files.  This lack of documentation has delayed their loved ones from getting into programs.  We want to make sure the hearing officer takes all information into consideration, especially when making the decision on an individual’s release. 

B. Section: Credits

  1. All individuals should be entitled to earn all credits -- including those on youth offender parole, serving life sentences, those serving life without the possibility of parole, and those on death row. Not allowing certain sectors of the populations to earn credits will create pockets within the prison that have no hope to rehabilitate, and will only decrease safety on the inside. Even if an individual is serving a life without parole sentence, being able to earn credits that allow them to lower their classification supports their rehabilitation and gives them hope. For their loved ones in the community, it also gives them hope that their family members are able to participate in programs for their own growth and reflection.  

For youth offenders in particular, we know that recent court decisions have barely caught up to the brain science that has shown that young people have the capacity to grow and mature.  Proposition 57 allows that to happen by providing rehabilitative and educational programs that they may not have had access to in the past.  Denying them the chance to earn credit towards their Youth Offender Parole Date is counter to the intent and purpose of Proposition 57. 

  1. All prisons should have access to the staffing and programs needed to fully implement the rehabilitation goals of Proposition 57.  We also believe that equal weight should be given to self-help and structure programs as milestone credits as not all facilities have equal and ready access to these programs. 
  2. Milestone credits should be applied retroactively, including the time that an individual has served while awaiting trial.  Thank you for applying educational credits as retroactive.  We think however that milestone credits should also be applied retroactively. For example, we know individuals who have served their time in jail for years awaiting their day in court.  During that time, they completed educational programs, achieved their GED or high school diploma, attained multiple certifications, participated in parenting programs, etc.  For youth under 18 who were direct filed and are serving adult prison sentences, many of the youth we know completed their high school diplomas and other programs while in juvenile hall.  Credit for completing all these programs during their time while detained inside jail or juvenile hall should be retroactive. These were attained without the benefits of Proposition 57, and their efforts to achieve them reflect the intent and purpose of Prop 57. 

When campaigning for Proposition 57, Governor Jerry Brown said “Through rehabilitation, we are creating hope in our prisons by giving inmates the opportunity to change and acquire skills and tools to be productive members of our society once they leave prison.”  The execution of Proposition 57 should fully implement these sentiments as intended.

On behalf of Silicon Valley De-Bug, thank you for reading and considering our concerns. Please implement Proposition 57 as intended to benefit all Californians.

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