A new initiative led by California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, supported by leftist Democrats, announced the early release of tens of thousands of prison inmates, including violent and repeat offenders. The 76,000 eligible for release includes at least 20,000 life-sentenced inmates.

The new rules, which were announced overnight and without warning, go into effect Saturday, but it could be several months before inmates are released, Fox News reported.

Prison officials say the goal is to reward inmates who seek to better themselves, while critics say the move will endanger society at large.

More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be eligible for good behavior credits, which shorten their sentences by one-third instead of one-fifth as had been agreed to in the last sentence reduction in 2017. That includes nearly 20,000 inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole.

On the other hand, more than 10,000 prisoners convicted of a second but nonviolent felony under the state’s “three strikes” law will be eligible for release after serving half of their sentences. 

The changes were approved this week by the state Office of Administrative Law.

“The goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behaviour and follow the rules while serving their time, and participate in rehabilitation and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons,” department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in a statement.

“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she said.

Opponents quickly emerged to criticize the measures, including Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, who represents crime victims. He said the notion that the credits are for good behavior is a fallacy.

“You don’t have to be good to get good time credits. People who lose good time credits for misconduct get them back, they don’t stay gone,” he said. “They could be a useful device for managing the population if they had more teeth in them. But they don’t. They’re in reality just a giveaway.”

Leftist sectors have pushed the process of inmate reduction for several years. With the argument of the CCP Virus, last year, they released 21,000 inmates out of approximately 117,000 held in state prisons before the pandemic.