“Inmate release: Not one day early, not one day late”
By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer
Calculating the amount of time an inmate serves in prison is one of the most important jobs in CDCR.
If an inmate is released before serving his or her full sentence under California law, not only does it give a black-eye to CDCR, but it potentially threatens public safety. If an inmate is kept too long, taxpayers could be on the hook as a result of an expensive lawsuit.
Ensuring the tens of thousands of inmates coming into state prison are released on the exact day they’re supposed to be is the job of Correctional Case Records Analysts (CCRA) like Kimberly Hart at Sierra Conservation Center.
CCRAs are tasked with auditing inmates’ central files which are currently in the process of being converted to electronic records, but as of now they are still paper files. As soon as the inmate arrives in the reception center the inmate’s commitment documents audited to check the sentencing by the superior court judge.
The CCRA cross-references the sentence with California law. In the event of any discrepancy that inmate’s case is referred back to the county court for review and corrections, as determined by the court.
If an inmate is a second-striker, CCRAs ensure the sentence was doubled. If an offender has multiple convictions the CCRA must determine if the time will be served concurrently or consecutively, which greatly affects the amount of time served by the inmate. On top of that responsibility, the CCRA must ensure that DNA testing of the offender was completed under Proposition 69.
Once correct, a release date is calculated and legally required notifications, such as violent or sexual offender notifications to the community and local law enforcement, are noted to be made upon the inmate’s scheduled release.
To ensure the sentence is accurate, and to calculate the inmate’s release date, the CCRA must use California laws, Departmental Operational Manuals, Case Records Training Modules and dozens of memorandums. The CCRA must also be familiar with laws that determine the rate at which an inmate earns credit when calculating a release date. Such rates range from 15 percent to 50 percent, and additional credit is applied if the inmate is housed in a fire camp or completes specific programs to earn Milestone Credits.
“We have drawers and drawers of memorandums that we refer to,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of room for error. You’re a rookie for at least the first three years in this position.”
After the exact release date is calculated, the work continues.
If an inmate is in any trouble or picks up a new conviction while incarcerated in state prison the CCRA has to calculate the deduction of earned good-time credits and/or addition of a new sentence.
During the inmate’s incarceration any milestone completion credits are also tracked, such as if an inmate participates in educational/vocational programs or CDCR’s conservation camp program where inmates can earn two days off their sentence for every one day served.
It’s an on-going calculation with a person’s freedom and the public’s safety on the line.
An added responsibility for CCRA’s after the implementation of Public Safety Realignment is to make sure that offenders who were sentenced to state prison are supposed to come to state prison to serve their sentence or if their conviction qualifies them to serve their time in county jail.
Caseloads are split up based on the last two digits of an inmate’s CDCR numbers. The CCRA has a base caseload but because the exact release date is so important, and the laws are so complex, there are multiple cross-audits conducted during an offender’s incarceration.
Over the life of an inmate’s sentence there are at least three audits conducted of an inmate’s file. Once an offender is within 60 days of release, the file is transferred to another CCRA to ensure all calculations are correct.
The CCRA is the integral part of ensuring an offender who has been convicted and sentenced to state prison serves his/her full debt to society. The CCRA protects public safety by making sure the correct notifications of an inmate’s scheduled release are made to victims and local law enforcement.
“I would lose sleep at night if I felt that I had made any kind of error in processing any of these cases,” Hart said. “Someone pays for my mistakes. We know that what we do is very important.”