Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is the Jail Early Release Statute Retroactive?

A few days ago we reported on the early releases from California local jails. It seems that the trickle of releases triggered a question of retroactivity; to what extent are early releases available for people who had served significant parts of their sentence before the statute came into effect?

Attorney General Jerry Brown says no. As the Chron reports, different counties have applied different standards for deciding on early releases:

Some counties, including Contra Costa, adopted that interpretation and started releasing inmates who had served at least half their sentence by Jan. 25.

Others, including San Francisco, applied the new credits only to the time an inmate served after Jan. 25. Santa Clara County extended the new credits only to those who were actually sentenced after Jan. 25.

Brown, the state's top law enforcement officer and a prospective candidate for governor, said Tuesday he had concluded the new credits are not retroactive and apply only to time an inmate spends in custody after Jan. 25.

Does this make sense? That's a good question. Usually, legal provisions apply only prospectively. In this particular case, however, the new statute's purpose could be completely thwarted by a prospective application. This is essentially a humonetarian law, rather than one aimed at actually changing penal policy in California. This is a good reminder that the future of our correctional apparatus lies not only in making the right laws, but also in applying them with their goal in mind.

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