NAACP asks federal judges to release three-strikes prisoners

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

SACRAMENTO -- The NAACP is weighing in on California’s prison crowding problem, asking federal judges Thursday to order the state to seek release of some 2,000 prisoners eligible for shorter sentences under the state’s revised three-strikes law.

California voters in 2012 passed Proposition 36, which reduced state penalties for felons whose third crime is not violent. The measure applied retroactively, allowing thousands of people in prison to petition judges for a new sentence and possible immediate release.


Though approximately 1,000 prisoners have already won release that way, progress reports by the state show there are some 2,000 eligible inmates still waiting for those reviews. Los Angeles County has among the poorest rates of hearing those cases, reviewing only 17% of the filed petitions, according to data provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The NAACP on Thursday asked federal judges attempting to force population caps on the state prisons to consider ordering California to expedite those Proposition 36 hearings, and at the same time make parole or probation services available to those felons when they are released.

[Updated at 4:50 p.m. Oct. 10: A spokesman for the corrections department said the NAACP’s request goes beyond the state’s role. “It is the inmates’ responsibility to petition the courts, and it is for judges to determine whether they should be re-sentenced. CDCR does not advocate for or against any petition,” said Jeffrey Callison.]

“Were [the state] invested in finding a durable solution to the prison crisis in California, one would expect to see some leadership on their part in this crucial area of reentry,” lawyers from the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School argued in the court filing.

The federal judicial panel has ordered Gov. Jerry Brown and lawyers for prisoners to attempt to negotiate steps the state can take to reduce prison overcrowding. An update on those talks is required by Oct. 21. If no compromise can be reached, the state has until Jan. 27 to meet the court’s current population cap. Brown has threatened to reach that goal by moving thousands of prisoners to private facilities out of state.

The NAACP notes in its filing that California’s prison population, though much reduced over the last few years, is again climbing. “This data suggests that the reforms that have been undertaken to address this court’s orders are no longer effectively reducing the prison population,” the lawyers wrote.


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