NBC 7 San Diego
DA Bonnie Dumanis (L), former inmate Kenneth Corley (M) and lawyer Justin Brooks (R) hold a press conference Friday regarding the release of Corley under Prop 36.
San Diegan Kenneth Corley was sentenced to life in prison in 1996, but today, he is a free man.
Corley, 62, is the first non-violent offender to have his life sentence revoked under Proposition 36.
He has spent the last 16-and-a-half years in prison under the state’s tough three strikes law.
On Friday morning, Corley appeared at California Western School of Law alongside District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and other lawyers.
Originally, Corley was sentenced to 25 years to life after being convicted of drug possession for sale. That sentencing came after convictions for burglary and attempted burglary.
But years later, it appears the punishment no longer fits the crime.
This past November, voters overwhelmingly passed Prop 36, which modified the three strikes law for non-violent offenders like Corley.
Proponents say many of the non-violent criminals are driven by drug and alcohol addiction.
On Friday, DA Dumanis said each case like this must be carefully reviewed, but inmates like Corley are better served being released, and given treatment and rehabilitation.
In his case, Dumanis said Corley has served “more than enough time.”
He was released from prison Thursday night.
Corley will now move into transitional housing. He said he plans to get a job doing maintenance work for a family friend.
The former inmate sees this as a second chance to live his life right.
“I just feel that I'm gonna be a better person now. I can't let the people down, they gave me some justice out of that prison and I'm not gonna let them down, and I'm not gonna let myself down,” said Corley.
He also had a message for other inmates who may be following in his footsteps thanks to Prop 36.
“The voters are the one that made it possible to get relief on your sentences. So, when you get out, make sure you stay out and don't let those people down,” Corley added.
Currently, there are as many as 300 cases involving three strike non-violent offenders being reviewed in San Diego County.
A good part of Friday’s press conference with Dumanis was spent addressing concerns over releasing inmates. In the end, Dumanis said it’s all about justice and rehabilitation, and gone are the days of locking inmates up and throwing away the key.
Justin Brooks, the lawyer who fought for Corley’s release said that while there might be inmates who turn back to crime after being released, people who call Prop 36 a mistake are missing the bigger picture.
“That is the millions of dollars that are saved, that will be shifted in the criminal justice system to areas where we might prevent crimes,” said Brooks.
Meanwhile, another local inmate named Sergio Ayala, whose third strike offense was stealing a leaf blower, is scheduled to be released next week. He’s like to be deported back to Mexico.