SACRAMENTO (AP) — Inmates who work as janitors, cooks and groundskeepers in California's overcrowded prisons would be eligible for early release under a proposed legal settlement.
The settlement was filed Friday in federal court, where judges would need to approve it before any changes take effect.
The Los Angeles Times reports that an estimated 4,300 inmates who form the backbone of the prison system's menial labor force could start earning sharply reduced sentences as early as January.
In February, three federal judges ordered the state to let minimum custody inmates earn up to two days off for every day of good behavior. That order came as part of a deal that gave California two more years to reduce prison populations. The court has concluded prisons are unsafely overcrowded, and that the inmate population must be reduced.
The prison system agreed to the settlement following negotiations with lawyers for inmates that the court had ordered, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Deborah Hoffman told the newspaper.
"This is really fair, because (California's) previous position had been they were going to deny the credits in order to preserve the prison workforce," said Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm.
The settlement represents a change for state officials, who maintained that minimum custody inmates are vital laborers whose sentences should not be cut.
The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued for the corrections department that the inmates are "vital" to the running of prisons and should not be allowed to lessen their time behind bars beyond current rules, which for every day they are in minimum custody reduce their sentence by one day. For their work, the inmates also receive between 8 cents to 37 cents per hour.
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