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California corrections officials want to know what you think about the state's new parole guidelines

Pelican Bay State Prison, shown in a 2001 file photo. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
Pelican Bay State Prison, shown in a 2001 file photo. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

California corrections officials on Friday began accepting public comments on the new set of regulations that have overhauled the state parole system, allowing thousands more inmates to be considered for early release.

State regulators gave the guidelines initial approval in April. They have been used to implement Proposition 57, which was approved by 65% of voters in November and is expected to reduce the statewide prison population by 11,500 inmates over the next four years. 

The sweeping initiative provided new ways for all inmates to earn time credits toward their sentences for good behavior and for enrolling in certain career, rehabilitation and education programs. It also allows the State Board of Parole Hearings to grant early release to a whole new population of inmates: prisoners whose primary sentences are for crimes not designated as “violent” under California law and have served the full term of their sentences. 

The state corrections department previously provided such a process only for nonviolent inmates who had been charged with a second strike under the state’s three-strikes law, and served 50% of their sentences. 

With the initial approval of the new guidelines, changes to the credit system began in May and the new parole eligibility requirements took effect this month. Final approval is expected in the fall.

The rules have come under fire. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors who oppose Proposition 57 argue that the regulations include loopholes that could make some violent or serious felons eligible for parole consideration.

Meanwhile, some inmates argue they should be eligible. Among them are offenders convicted of sex crimes, in which there was no contact with the victim, and those with a "third strike" for a nonviolent offense.

The voter initiative did not include language exempting sex offenders from the process, and a Los Angeles-based nonprofit is challenging the exclusion in court on behalf of some prisoners.

People can submit their comments by phone, mail or email or at a public meeting Sept. 1 at the Resources Building Auditorium in Sacramento.

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