Decarcerating Prisons

The problems of mass incarceration in the United States are well known. What is less understood are viable solutions to safely decarcerating our nation’s prisonsand jails. In this policy lab, we will explore both parole release decisionmaking as well as California’s Proposition 57 implementation as mechanisms by which states can reduce their prison populations. Upwards of 50% of state prisoners are subject to release by parole boards, and in 24 states boards do not need to disclose what information they used to make their decisions. Building off research the Robina Institute at the University of Minnesota has undertaken, we will analyze the range and degree of specific criteria used by Parole Board members to make release decisions. We will also explore racial disparities in the parole process as well as promising approaches that move beyond factors of the crime and criminal history of the prisoner (e.g., risk assessments, prison behavior, rehabilitation). Our research will likely include interviews with parole board officials and inmates, review of state law and regulation, and observing parole hearings.

Proposition 57, passed in November 2016, makes prisoners convicted of non-violent felonies eligible for parole consideration upon completion of his/her primary offense. It also gives the California Department of Corrections and Rehabiltiation (CDCR) the authority to award additional sentencing credits to prisoners for good behavior and approved rehabilitative programming. We will analyze the range of issues that arise as a result of his major piece of legislation, including legal intersections with Marsy’s Law (the victims bill of rights), due process rights for eligible prisoners, including those with disabilities who might not be able to participate in offered programs, monitoring program availability and quality (and possible effects on lifer program availability), infraction variability by institution, and more. The resulting policy brief will be presented to CDCR and the Governor’s Office for consideration as the State implements this new law.

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