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Sentencing, Incarceration, & Parole of Offenders


CALIFORNIA’S SENTENCING LAWS

Most offenders are sentenced to California state prison for a set amount of time under the Determinate Sentencing Law. Once this time is served, the inmate is released and placed under parole supervision in the community.

Those offenders convicted of the most serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping for ransom are sentenced under the Indeterminate Sentencing Law (ISL) and will serve a term of life with possibility of parole. Offenders sentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole cannot be released on parole until the BPH determines that they are ready to be returned to society.

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WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SENTENCING?

Once sentenced to CDCR, the inmate is sent to a reception center for processing and transfer to an institution. Processing includes computing a classification score based on such factors as length of sentence, stability, education, employment, and behavior during a prior incarceration.

The classification score determines the type of facility where the inmate will be housed. This score may change over time based on individual behavior and specific case factors. Because of this change, an inmate may be transferred to a different institution.

Note: CDCR does not notify victims when a transfer takes place.

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WHAT HAPPENS TO THE INMATE WHILE IN THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION?

Education and vocational programs are available to inmates. An inmate may obtain a GED or a certificate of completion. These programs also qualify an inmate for work time credits and continued participation is dependent on the offender’s good behavior.

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MDO & SVP

For information regarding Mentally Disordered Offenders (MDO) click here

For information regarding Sexually Violent Predators (SVP) click here

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What Happens When an Inmate is Released?

Effective October 1, 2011, when an inmate has completed his/her sentence, he/she is released to either state supervised parole or county-level supervision also known as post-release community supervision. The type of supervision is determined by the California Penal Code. The more serious and violent offenders and high-risk sex offenders are released to state parole and the non-serious, non-violent, and non-sex offenders are released to county-level supervision.

Currently, the law requires that parolees be returned to the county that was the last legal residence of the offender prior to his or her incarceration. A parolee may be returned to another county if that would be in the best interests of the public. DAPO carefully reviews each case and makes such decisions on an individual basis.

Offenders released from prison to state supervised parole are assigned a Parole Agent, in the community where the offender will be living. CDCR parole offices are located throughout California. CDCR requires all parolees to follow conditions of parole, which may include such special conditions as no contact with the victim or victim's family or that the parolee may not be allowed within 35 miles of the victim's actual residence if the crime was a violent felony. Victims or witnesses may contact OVSRS to request special conditions of parole, which will be considered by DAPO prior to the inmate's release.

Offenders released from prison to county-level supervision will be supervised by a local law enforcement agency. CDCR no longer has jurisdiction over any person who is released from prison to county-level supervision.

Visit the Post-Release Community Supervision webpage for more information.

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WHAT IS MEDICAL PAROLE?

Penal Code Section 3550 requires that any prisoner who the head physician for the institution where the prisoner is located determines, as provided, is permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition that renders the prisoner permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, and results in the prisoner requiring 24-hour care, and that incapacitation did not exist at the time of sentencing, shall be granted medical parole, if the Board of Parole Hearings determines that the conditions under which the prisoner would be released would not reasonably pose a threat to public safety. If granted medical parole, the offender would be assigned a Parole Agent, and if their condition improves, they can be returned to custody. The provisions of medical parole do not apply to any prisoner sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.

Victims or victim next-of-kin who are registered to receive notification will receive information regarding the date and location of the hearing, and have the right to attend and participate in the medical parole hearing process. Note: In most cases, the inmate will not be present for this hearing.

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HOW DOES A PAROLEE GET OFF PAROLE?

Inmates sentenced under the Determinate Sentencing Law serve up to a maximum of four years on parole. After being on parole for 12 months, parole staff review the case. Based on the behavior of the parolee, the parole agent may recommend release from parole supervision.

All life sentences, except life without possibility of parole, have a minimum eligible parole date. Parole is not automatic for inmates with life terms, and the BPH determines if and when the offender is ready for parole.

If paroled, offenders with life terms who committed their crimes prior to November 11, 1978 must complete three years in a row of successful parole before the BPH will review their case for discharge. By law, offenders with life terms serve no more than five years on parole. Those who committed their crime after November 11, 1978 will remain on parole for life unless the BPH grants a discharge after five years for second degree murder and seven years for first degree murder.

Parole may be revoked if a parolee is found to be in violation of the conditions of parole or if a new crime is committed. The parole agent can recommend that the offender be returned to custody. A revocation hearing will be conducted by the parole hearing authority to determine if a violation has occurred, whether the violator will be returned to custody and if so, for how long. Violators can be returned to custody for up to 12 months at a time.

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WHAT IS A PAROLE REVOCATION HEARING?

When a parolee is arrested on charges of violating his/her conditions of parole, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) conducts a parole revocation hearing to determine whether the parolee should be returned to prison. A BPH Deputy Commissioner is the hearing officer. The parolee's parole agent attends the hearing to present the facts about the violation. The local law enforcement officer who arrested the parolee may also attend to present facts about the arrest. The victim(s) of the alleged violation and any witness (es) to the alleged violation may attend the hearing to present testimony. The parolee and the parolee's attorney also attend to present witnesses and documentary evidence in defense of the charges.

For more information download:
Victim and Witness Handbook for Adult Offender Parole Revocation Hearings image for PDF

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WHAT IS THE PAROLE PROCESS FOR INMATES SERVING LIFE SENTENCES?

Inmates serving life sentences become eligible for parole hearings automatically, one year prior to their minimum eligible parole date (MEPD). Being scheduled for a parole hearing is no indication of the inmate's suitability for release from prison. Whether inmates are found suitable for parole is a judgment of the BPH hearing panel. These inmates are sentenced to the possibility of parole, not the assurance of it, recognizing that their maximum potential sentence is life.

For more information on the parole process for inmates serving a life sentence Click Here.

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WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE CUSTODY PROGRAM?

Penal Code (PC) Section 1170.05, the Alternative Custody Program (ACP), was enacted by Senate Bill 1266 and became effective on January 1, 2011.

The ACP is a voluntary program developed for non-violent, non-serious and non-registerable sex offense inmates and allows eligible inmates committed to state prison to serve their sentences in the community in lieu of confinement in state prison. Eligible participants may be housed in a private residence, a transitional care facility or a residential drug or other treatment program. The Program Guide references a transitional care facility or a residential drug or other treatment program as an "ACP program".

Participants in the ACP must volunteer and agree to abide by specific requirements of participation, as defined in Article 6.8 of the California Code of Regulations. ACP participants remain under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and will be supervised by the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) while in the community.

Under this program, one day of participation in an alternative custody program shall be in lieu of one day of incarceration in a state prison. Participants in the program shall receive any sentence reduction credits that they would have received had they served their sentence in a state prison.

Participants may be returned to an institution to serve the remainder of their term at any time with or without cause.

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WHAT IS THE INTERNATIONAL PRISONER TRANSFER TREATY PROGRAM?

Authority to approve transfers of foreign citizen inmates to their native countries to serve the remainder of their prison terms is delegated to the Executive Officer of the Board of Parole Hearings by the Governor under the provisions of Government Code section 12012.1.

For more information on the program Click Here.

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HOW DO I TRACK THE STATUS OF AN OFFENDER THAT IS PENDING DEPORTATION?

Offender's that have been transferred into the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be held in a Federal holding facility pending deportation. Victims can request notification of the offender's status by submitting the Victim Request for Notification of Criminal Alien Status Form image for PDF to the ICE Victim Notification Program. For more information visit the ICE website.

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THREE STRIKE REFORM ACT OF 2012

Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act, was passed by California voters in November 2012. This initiative provides that people currently sentenced as third strikers who have a current non-serious non-violent offense would be resentenced as second strikers.

Additionally, there are specific offense restrictions for both current and prior offenses for inmates to be eligible for resentencing. Specific offenses include felony sex offenses requiring registration pursuant to PC 290. Also, the offender must not have used or possessed a firearm or deadly weapon or intend to cause harm while committing their current offense. Victims and/or victim family members shall retain the rights to participate in any resentencing hearing.

Key Points:

  • This new law allows people currently serving time for a non-serious and non-violent third strike to petition for resentencing as second-strikers. Roughly 2,800 inmates could be eligible, but the courts will ultimately decide eligibility.
  • Because this new law requires resentencing, no offenders will be automatically released.
  • • This new resentencing process will take time to implement. Inmates have up to two years to petition the court for a new sentence.

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RESENTENCING OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE.

Senate Bill 9 was passed in September 2012 and became effective in January 2013. This bill authorizes an offender who was: under 18 years of age at the commitment of the offense, sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and having served 15 years of that sentence, to submit a petition to the sentencing court for recall and resentencing provided they meet all eligibility criteria and considerations. The bill would not allow a prisoner to petition, who tortured his or her victim or whose victim was a public safety official. Victims and/or victim family members shall retain the rights to participate in any resentencing hearing.

For more information please read the Senate Bill 9 Summary Sheet.

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