September 11, 2007
Pursuant to Elections Code Section 9005, we have
reviewed the proposed initiative cited as the “California Prison
Population Reduction Act of 2008” (File No. 07‑0039).
Worktime Credits. Current law
allows most state inmates to earn worktime credits, which provide time
off of the inmate’s sentence for good behavior and participation in
work, education, or other programs. Most inmates are eligible for a
maximum of one day off of their prison sentence for each day they
participate in a program, generally referred to as “day-for-day”
credits. Other inmates, such as those who have been convicted of a
violent offense, are eligible to earn worktime credits at a lower rate.
Parole of Inmates Serving Life Sentences.
Most inmates in California prisons are sentenced to specified or
determinate terms (for example, a sentence of six years). These inmates
are automatically released from prison at the conclusion of their
sentence, minus the worktime credits they have earned. Other inmates are
sentenced to indeterminate terms, such as “ten years to life.” An inmate
sentenced to an indeterminate term must serve the minimum amount of time
prescribed by their sentence—in this case, ten years—and cannot be
released from prison unless approved by the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH)
following a hearing to assess the suitability of that inmate to be
released to the community.
“Three Strikes” Law. In 1994,
California legislators and voters approved increased penalties for
certain repeat offenders. The law was enacted as Chapter 12, Statutes of
1994 (AB 971, Jones), and by the electorate in Proposition 184 and is
commonly known as “Three Strikes and You’re Out.” The law imposed longer
prison sentences for certain repeat offenders, as well as instituted
other changes. Most significantly, it required that a person who is
convicted of a felony and who has been previously convicted of one or
more violent or serious felonies receive a sentence enhancement. The
most significant provisions of the Three Strikes law are as follows:
If a person has one
previous serious or violent felony conviction, the sentence for
any new felony conviction (not just a serious or violent felony) is
twice the term otherwise required under law for the new
conviction. Offenders sentenced by the courts under this provision are
often referred to as “second strikers.”
If a person has two or more previous serious or
violent felony convictions, the sentence for any new felony
conviction (not just a serious or violent felony) is life imprisonment
with a minimum term of 25 years. Offenders convicted under this
provision are frequently referred to as “third strikers.”
As of June 30, 2007, there were about 41,000
inmates in state prison who were sentenced as second or third strikers
under the Three Strikes law.
This measure contains various provisions that
affect the amount of time certain offenders serve in state prison. We
discuss the most significant of these provisions below.
Increased Worktime Credits. This
initiative would increase worktime credits from current levels to allow
all eligible inmates to receive two days off their prison sentences for
each day in a program, commonly referred to as “two-for-one” credits.
Maximum Prison Time Established for Inmates
With Life Sentences. This measure would change the amount of
time many inmates currently sentenced to life terms would serve in state
prison. Specifically, the measure establishes maximum periods of
confinement as well as sets new minimum sentences. In many cases, the
new prison terms would result in shorter prison stays than under current
law. For example, an offender convicted of first-degree murder who is
currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life would now serve a term
of 12 to 20 years in prison.
The BPH would still be responsible for
determining when, within these new time frames, inmates would be
released from prison. The measure also identifies criteria BPH would
have to consider when determining when an inmate is to be released.
These criteria include consideration of the offender’s mental health,
criminal history, and behavior in prison. The measure also makes other
procedural changes for parole determination hearings for these inmates.
Repeal of Three Strikes Law. This
measure would eliminate the increased sentences currently required under
the Three Strikes law, thereby reducing the amount of time certain
repeat offenders would serve in state prison. The measure also allows
for resentencing of inmates currently in prison under the Three Strikes
law, potentially resulting in their release to parole at an earlier
This measure would have significant fiscal
effects on both state and county governments. These effects are
State Prison System. This measure
makes several changes which would result in reduced state prison
operating costs potentially ranging from a few hundred millions of
dollars in the first couple of years, growing to the low billions of
dollars annually in the longer term. Also, the lower prison population
resulting from this measure would potentially result in capital outlay
savings associated with prison construction and renovations that would
otherwise be needed. The magnitude of these one-time savings is unknown,
but could be as much as several billion dollars in the long term. The
amount of operating and capital outlay savings would depend on a number
of factors, including the growth in the inmate population and amount of
prison construction that would occur if this measure were not enacted.
resulting in these savings include the following. First, the requirement
that inmates receive two-for-one worktime credits would result in
shorter prison stays for inmates who are eligible for the enhanced
credit level. Second, the provisions changing sentencing laws for
inmates currently serving life terms would likely result in many such
inmates being released from prison sooner than they would be under
current law. Third, the provisions of the measure eliminating Three
Strikes enhancements would result in shorter prison sentences for
inmates who would otherwise be eligible for Three Strikes enhancements
under current law. Fourth, the provision allowing the resentencing of
inmates currently serving enhanced sentences under the Three Strikes law
would result in many of those offenders being released to the community
sooner or resentenced to shorter prison terms. Each of these provisions
would result in a reduction in the inmate population and, therefore,
lower prison operating and capital outlay costs.
State Parole Supervision. Due to
the shorter sentences served by some inmates, this measure would
accelerate the release of state prisoners to parole, thereby adding to
the parole caseload. The resulting increase in parole costs is unknown,
but would likely be several tens of millions of dollars initially,
growing to the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually when the
full impact of the measure is realized. The actual costs would depend on
when certain offenders affected by this measure would be released to
parole, the number of certain other offenders released from prison
without having to serve parole, as well as the number of parolees who
returned to prison as a result of committing new offenses in the
Court-Related Activities and County Jails.
This measure would result in additional state and local costs for the
courts and county jails. Two factors primarily account for the increased
costs. The first factor is the resentencing provision of this measure,
which would increase court caseloads and increase county jail costs
because jails would house inmates during the resentencing proceedings.
Second, it is likely that some offenders released from prison because of
this measure will be subsequently prosecuted and convicted for new
crimes. Taking both factors into account, we estimate these additional
costs could potentially be in the low hundreds of millions of dollars
annually when the full impact of the measure is realized. These costs
would be shared between state and local governments.
Other Impacts on State and Local
Governments. This measure could result in other state and local
government costs. This would occur to the extent that offenders released
from prison because of this measure require government services or
commit additional crimes that result in victim-related government costs,
such as government-paid health care for persons without private
insurance coverage. Alternatively, there could be offsetting state and
local government revenue to the extent that offenders released from
prisons because of this measure become taxpaying citizens. The extent
and magnitude of these impacts are unknown.
Summary of Fiscal Effect
The measure would have the following fiscal
Net state operating savings of potentially a few hundred
million dollars initially, increasing to the low billions of dollars
annually, primarily due to reduced prison operating costs.
Unknown one-time state savings for capital outlay
associated with prison construction that would otherwise be needed,
potentially as much as several billions of dollars in the long term.
Increased county costs potentially in the low hundreds of
millions of dollars annually for jail and court-related costs.
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