Over the past three years, California’s prison system has seen major changes. Since taking office as governor of California in 2011, Jerry Brown has been responsible for 82 percent of parole board decisions. The result has been dramatic for prisoners facing life without parole.
Governor Brown has worked with the courts to address the issue of prison overcrowding. To manage the prison population, his office has looked at the strict parole requirements that have kept many individuals in prison for increased amounts of time.
Now the courts have ruled that prison officials must consider more than the inmate’s crime when making parole decisions. The inmate’s behavior and record while incarcerated now weigh into the decision making process for granting or denying parole. Prison officials also must take into account the volunteer work that the inmate has done while incarcerated. Governor Brown then has the ability to approve or disapprove of the board’s decision.
Prior to Governor Brown, Governor Schwarzenegger had only authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term. Governor Davis before him only released two over a three-year period.
Since new rulings on parole were made in 2008, 3,000 inmates with life sentences have been released. Governor Brown has been behind 1,590 of these decisions since taking office in 2011. A state record of 670 inmates qualified for parole and were released in 2012 and 590 were released in 2013.
Of these 3,000 lifers released, over 80 percent are said to have been in prison for murder.
Governor Brown has approved the vast majority of these releases as the state and court battle to amend the lengthy prison crowding crisis that has only gotten worse over time.
What This Means for Current Inmates
Over the past twenty years, the number of inmates serving life sentences in California state prisons has grown from 9,000 to 35,000. This has created a major dilemma for state officials as prisons have become overcrowded. “Life without parole” has thus taken a new meaning.
The changes that now guide parole decisions, with Governor Brown’s approval, mean that inmates serving life without parole actually have an opportunity to receive a second chance. With good behavior and a solid track record for volunteer work inmates may be able to show that they have been rehabilitated and are no longer a threat to society.
Even with these new rules for considering parole, California inmates convicted of murder can still expect to spend an average of 27 years in prison. Recently, Governor Brown also blocked parole for 100 inmates that the board felt were ready to be released. He cited the case of James Mackey, a former football player who was found guilty of shooting his victim with a crossbow and then strangling him. Brown felt that Mackey has not “sufficiently owned up to his crime,” and should not be released.
Mackey’s situation shows the importance of maintaining good behavior while incarcerated. It also shows how Governor Brown will be valuing those inmates who have taken responsibility for their crimes and made an effort to show that they wanted to be rehabilitated during their time in prison.
A Step in the Right Direction
The California State Prison system serves a much greater purpose than simply housing people who have been convicted of crimes. It must also take strides toward rehabilitating these inmates and giving them the opportunity to one day contribute to society in a positive way.
The new rulings, and Governor Brown’s decision-making, show a step in the right direction. State officials now think about much more than an inmate’s past crime when considering parole. Weighing in their behavior, volunteer work, and accountability for their crimes shows that the state is trying to make constructive changes while also solving the overcrowding issue.
A Stanford University study also shows that inmates serving life sentences who have been granted parole between 1990 and 2010 actually commit new crimes at much lower rates than other inmates who are serving lesser sentences. This might help ease many people’s fears when it comes to releasing these inmates.
Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or a loved one is currently serving a life prison sentence without parole, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the difficult task of qualifying for parole. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been successfully serving those clients facing life sentences for over 30 years.
With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, Wallin & Klarich has an established reputation of providing its clients with round-the-clock support in Southern California.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.