Governor Brown, California Legislature Squeezed on Criminal Justice Reforms

prison dealSeptember is a pivotal time in California politics as state legislation must pass out of both houses of the legislature before the September 13 deadline and then Governor Brown has until October 13 by which he can sign or veto these bills. Both the legislature and Governor Brown are currently reviewing a wide range of juvenile and criminal justice policies that will have a long-term impact on the state.

California continues to work through the implications of Realignment, and develop a safe plan to reduce its adult prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by December 31, 2013, per Supreme Court mandate. Governor Brown and others have sought to limit full implementation of the Supreme Court mandated Realignment. They argue the state lacks capacity to reduce the prison population by the approximately 10,000 individuals necessary to meet the federal court mandate in time. However, CJCJ’s analysis has shown disparate county implementation of Realignment contributes to the high prison population, with 17 counties still relying heavily on the state system.

In late August, the Governor proposed a plan to lease private prison and jail space that would cost the state $315 million for FY 2013-14 and $415 million in subsequent two years. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg offered his own proposal to create a much-needed sentencing commission that would reduce county-by-county sentencing disparities and support local alternatives to prison. SB 105 is a fusion of Governor Brown and Steinberg’s proposal, but eliminates the sentencing commission and continues to unnecessarily allocate funding for prison expansion. This week, the proposal passed out of both the Assembly and Senate.

Other adult criminal justice proposals that are now on the Governor’s desk include:

  • AB 149 (Weber), which provides voting rights information for current and formerly incarcerated individuals offenders;
  • AB 720 (Skinner), which would assist people housed in county jail with receiving affordable health insurance;
  • AB 994 (Lowenthal), which establishes misdemeanor diversion programs statewide that will be administered by county district attorneys, and
  • SB 649 (Leno), making simple drug possession for personal use a “wobbler”, which could result in either a felony or misdemeanor sentence.

Amid California’s criminal justice reform efforts, juvenile justice policy risks being overshadowed. Yet, a number of landmark bills demonstrate the perseverance of legislators to champion important public safety reforms that directly impact youth and ultimately influence the future adult criminal justice population. SB 260 (Hancock) allows for a petition of a re-sentencing hearing after an individual serves 10 years and is currently on the governor’s desk. AB 549 (Jones-Sawyer) seeks to define the role of adults in comprehensive school safety plans and was presented to the governor on September 9, as was AB 570 (Jones-Sawyer), which expanded instruction time for continuation schools.

brian goldsteinFinally, a number of promising bills influenced the policy discussion even though they ultimately did not reach the Governor’s desk. SB 61 (Yee) would have limited the detrimental use of solitary confinement on youth. AB 420 (Dickinson) was an important school discipline bill that addressed the harmful application of willful defiance. Hopefully, these proposals will be reintroduced to the state legislature next year.

Brian Goldstein
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Thursday, 12 September 2013

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