by Ivette Alé
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April, 4 2018
California Committee Passes Bill to Reduce Sentences for Prior Felony Convictions
Bills Amend Sentencing Enhancements Aimed At People with Prior Convictions
Bills Now Head to the Senate Appropriations Committee
Eunisses Hernandez, Euhernandez@drugpolicy.org, 213-226-6426
Sacramento, CA —Today, the California Senate Public Safety Committee voted to pass Senate Bills 1392 and SB 1393, half of the Equity and Justice Package, authored by Senator Holly J. Mitchell and Ricardo Lara. The two Senate leaders are joint authors on bills that together seek major justice reforms for juveniles and adults.
“Mass incarceration is a massive moral failure and policy failure. It’s a moral failure because we now know that it is injurious to families and to the economies of low-income communities, and that its violence has been directed overwhelmingly at black men and black women, Latinos and Latinas,” said Senator Mitchell. “As a matter of public policy, paying for long prison sentences is the worst use of public safety dollars. We must stop wasting taxpayer dollars on a failed policy.”
Today’s passage out of committee comes in the wake of the California legislature passing two historic sentencing reform measures in 2017, SB 180 (The Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) authored by Senator Mitchell, which repealed the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions and SB 620 authored by Senator Bradford, allowing judges to strike unwarranted gun sentence enhancements.
SB 1392, the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act 2018, authored by Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), repeals California’s one-year sentence enhancement for prior felony convictions and passed with an 5 to 1 vote. SB 1392 would repeal one of the most commonly used sentencing enhancements that adds one year for each previous prison or felony jail term, which impacted one-third of people convicted in 2017.
SB 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act of 2018 reinstates judicial discretion to the application of the 5-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony at the time when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. This bill passed the committee with 5 to 1 votes. According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), there are about 100,000 years’ worth of the 5-year enhancement applied to people currently under CDCR custody.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences” based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions. As of 2016, 79% of people under CDCR custody had some kind of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence; 25% had three or more enhancements stacked on.
Proponents of the measures argue that these policies will will help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by preventing people from having their sentences doubled or tripled because of enhancements and reducing jail overcrowding and wasteful spending on incarceration. The bill’s co-sponsors and community members who have experienced extreme sentencing celebrate the passage of this bill out of the Public Safety Committee as a step towards victory for families and communities who have faced separation and destabilization for too long as a result of ineffective tough on crime policies that disproportionately target people of color.
“These bills are a long overdue step towards restoring fairness in our courtrooms,” said Romarilyn Ralston, of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “They recognize the critical importance of reunifying parents with their children which is key to sustaining healthy communities.”
“The outcome of today’s hearing builds on the growing momentum in California to enact criminal justice reforms that divest from ineffective mass incarceration policies and invest in community-based solutions like mental healthcare, education, and substance-use treatment.” said Amber-Rose Howard of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. California voters have also shown their support for such reforms by voting for Propositions 47, 64, and 57, and advocates laud lawmakers for demonstrating their commitment to following the will of the people by enacting legislation that prioritizes safety instead of punishment.
Co-sponsors of the legislation include ACLU of California, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Drug Policy Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Friends Committee on Legislation California, Pillars of the Community, Tides Advocacy, Women’s Foundation of CA, Women’s Policy Institute, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.