Stacking Good Credits For Early Release

In July 2020, the California Department of Corrections came under criticism for not prioritizing high-risk inmates for its early program to reduce the burden of COVID-19 in its facilities.

Fast forward ten months later, the Department has taken steps to change the narrative while sticking to its value to prioritize public safety above all else, per Proposition 57, which is the latest update to The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016.  

Pursuant to this, the correctional system made changes to its Good Conduct Credit (GCC) program. Most inmates – including high-risk violent offenders, are now eligible to receive credits for good behavior. To participate in this program, an inmate earns credit by taking courses to earn educational credits while in prison; inmates also participate in self-help and volunteer activities to earn rehabilitative achievement credits. There are also the milestone completion credits, which an inmate earns to equip themselves with real-life employable skills.

The Department aims to use activities in the GCC program to reduce recidivism and help inmates build a sustainable life outside prison walls. First, earning credits is the incentive for participants who enroll in rehabilitation programs. It also reinforces commitment to good behavior. Such learned behavior, the Department projects, would continue outside the prison walls and motivate an inmate to engage in positive activities than return to their old ways.   

More importantly, inmates convicted and incarcerated for non-violent offenses can earn credits to speed up their parole consideration and hearing. However, the conditions for parole review are that: the inmate must have served the entire term of their primary offense, and they must demonstrate their conditional release will not expose communities to an unreasonable risk of violence.

Until the modification, earning valuable credits was mostly far-fetched for inmates convicted of violent offenses. The latest changes mean that this category of offenders will receive an 11% increase in the value of credits earned in the GCC program.

According to the Department of Corrections, violent offenders are now accessed for 33% from 20%. This means they get one day of credit earned for every two days served. Until the modification, inmates received one day of credit for four days served.

Of course, the Department punishes unruly behavior during participation in its GCC program. Inmates found guilty of violating prison rules could lose credits in disciplinary action.

The GCC seems to have worked. The California Department of Corrections recently announced it is set to release about 76 thousand inmates who have earned enough credits and thus eligible for parole. This announcement hints that the correctional system is decongesting its facilities following a Supreme Court order. The prison population had peaked at 160,000 inmates in 2006 before dropping to about 117,000 inmates just before the pandemic in 2019. The thirty-five adult prisons in California were designed to hold just above 85,000 inmates.