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California Senator Janet Nguyen Announces Legislation to Ensure Transparency and Accountability for Prisoner Credits in Early Release Program

“There is an “urgent and immediate” need to bring accountability for California’s early release of prisoners,” California Senator Janet Nguyen said. 

California State Senator Janet Nyguyen announced this week that she would be introducing legislation to hold the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) accountable for the prisoners they release early.

“There is an “urgent and immediate” need to bring accountability for California’s early release of prisoners,” the senator said in a statement released by her office. If enacted, the senator’s proposal would “make public the calculations of a prisoner’s early release, including what the inmate did to earn any credits.”

The legislation comes after a number of incidents where inmates released early went on to commit more heinous crimes. 

Twenty-four year old Officer Gonzalo Carrasco was patrolling the 2600 block of the Pine Street neighborhood in Selma on Jan 31 when a resident alerted him to the presence of a trespasser on her property. Carrasco exited his patrol vehicle to investigate and at that moment, several shots rang out. Officer Carrasco fell to the ground. He was struck multiple times. The assault was instantaneous so Carruso had no opportunity to fire his weapon.

The perpetrator fled the scene but was intercepted 25 minutes later. Nathaniel Dixon, a 23-year old felon and gang-member, was charged with murder, violation of probation and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of ammunition.

Officer Carrasco was taken to Community Regional Medical Center where he was rushed into emergency surgery but succumbed to his injuries. The soon-to-be dad would never get to meet his child.

Dixon had a litany of prior convictions for drug offenses, robbery and firearm charges that sentenced him to more than 5 years in jail, but was awarded an early release under the Prop 57 prison credit system.

This comes just nine months after another incident involving an early release prisoner. Martin Smiley was released after serving less than half of his 10 year sentence, and went on to take part (with his brother) in the Sacramento mass shooting which killed 6 and injured 12 people. The incident occurred around 2:00 a.m in downtown Sacramento when the brothers got into a gunfight with rival gang members.

President Biden called for tougher gun laws following the Smiley incident, but made no mention of early release policies.

“Our broken criminal justice system has resulted in another tragic life lost, this time a law enforcement officer who was on duty protecting his community,” Senator Nguyen said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation describes Prop 57 as “providing credit-earning opportunities for sustained good behavior, as well as in-prison program and activities participation. Under Proposition 57, incarcerated people increased their Good Conduct Credit earning, and have been given time credits for participation in Milestone Completion Credits, Rehabilitative Achievement Credits, and Educational Merit Credits. Also under Proposition 57, a process for parole consideration was established for eligible people convicted of nonviolent crimes. Those who demonstrate that their release would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community may be eligible for release…” 

The violence unleashed on Californians by early released prisoners called into question the manner in which credits were awarded for early release, and the definition of “nonviolent crimes.”

Senator Nguyen’s approach, in an attempt to address the issue, is to demand transparency to ensure the Prop 57 measure is being followed accurately.

“The public has a right to know how inmates earn these credits and why they are being released early. This bill addresses both issues and is a start to holding the state accountable for this fundamentally flawed program,” the senator stated.

When policies fail, killings occur. This was the view of Fresno County District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp whose office prosecuted Dixon, and who supports Sen. Nguyen legislative pursuit.

“Governor Newsom and every legislator in the state of California who supports this overreaching phenomenon, [recent early release credit reforms] they try to disguise as legitimate criminal justice reform, has the blood of this officer on their hands,” Smittcamp said.

At least two other district attorneys from Yolo and El Dorado Counties have expressed displeasure with the credit system, suggesting that the calculation of credits is not disclosed because they are not awarded as the voter information guide described, and voters expected. Therefore, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation won’t be able to give a comprehensive explanation.

Senator Shannon Grove, co-author of Senator Nguyen’s legislation released the following statement:

“How many times do we have to see our law enforcement officers and innocent victims murdered and brutalized by felons released early before we acknowledge Governor Newsom’s policies are broken? This measure is a step in the right direction to address the policies that continue to let violent offenders back onto the streets before serving their time. I pray that the grace of God is with the family of Officer Carrasco during this very difficult time.”

“My heart breaks for the family of Officer Carrasco,” Senator Nguyen continued. “Nothing we do today will bring back his life. We’ve seen too many times that these violent felons are given early release and then go on to commit additional violent crimes. This must end.”

In 2016, sixty-five percent of voters voted to implement the prison credit system.

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