Last year, Californians overwhelmingly voted to enact Proposition 57: The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. This measure is integral in expanding restorative justice in our prisons by incentivizing incarcerated individuals to improve their lives through education, career training and rehabilitation.
Widely seen as a win-win for both increasing public safety and giving inmates the tools necessary to succeed outside of prison, the proposition mandated that it take effect quickly. Conventional processes begin with a public comment period before new regulations are enacted, but emergency regulations to implement Prop. 57 were adopted and enacted earlier this year.
Though the timeline is unconventional, the emergency regulations that have already been implemented have allowed the California Catholic Conference (CCC) the opportunity to closely monitor and make recommendations that are vital to the success of the programs. The public comment period is set to close next Friday, September 1.
The CCC is advocating for access to rehabilitation programming and space to create that programming. It is also encouraging credits for constructive involvement with crime survivors participation in religious programs.
The CCC is strongly recommending credit for participation in religious programming. Most credible voices on the subject understand that faith programming leads to personal transformation. This component is essential in order to reduce recidivism within our prison system. Society and individuals will not effectively solve social and personal struggles, such as crime and violence without a spiritual transition. Faith practiced within a particular religious’ tradition facilitates that transformation. Programs where participants can deepen their faith may bring inmates to a level of better behaviors and attitudes, which will make for better public safety. Participation in such programs should be encouraged and rewarded with good time credits.
In the same breadth, the regulations should include credit for inmates who would be willing to participate in a program directed towards victim awareness and healing. Inmates who do so participate and understand the impacts of the crimes they have committed will likely begin to change their behavior and be better citizens when they return to society. Once they understand the harm they have caused to victims, their families, and communities, they can take responsibility for their actions and commit to their own rehabilitation.
The proposed regulations currently exclude young people from receiving credits or being eligible for parole under Youth Offender Parole. Why would we want to exclude youth participation? The harm done to the emotional, mental and social development of incarcerated youth, combined with the separation from family and community as well as the unhealthy environment of prison make incarceration the leading driver for repeat offenses by youthful offenders. There is no justifiable reason to exclude people based on age and the fact that they are eligible for another program.
The CCC is also contending that good time credits should be retroactive. To deny programming credits to people who have been dedicated to rehabilitation for years, even for decades, is unfair. The benefits of Prop. 57 should apply retroactively to cover past participation in genuine rehabilitation programming, especially when it has led to good behavior.
Finally, people who are serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for nonviolent crimes should not be excluded from this effort. Prop. 57 promised to apply to all people whose convictions are for nonviolent crimes.
In order to fully implement Prop. 57 as the voters intended—improving rehabilitation in our prisons and protecting public safety – the CCC is actively recommending that these changes to the proposed regulations be adopted.