Legislative Updates


During the early 1970s, American sentencing policy and penal philosophy was focused on rehabilitation. Many mandatory sentencing laws had been repealed due to social scientists’ lack of evidence proving lengthy prison sentences deterred further crime. Furthermore, these sentencing laws were not proven to be cost-effective or socially optimal. 

Sentiment began to change in the mid-1970s. The FBI reported a spike in crime and then-Attorney General William Saxbe advocated strongly against lenient sentences. At the same time, Robert Martinson, a sociologist at New York’s City College, had studied two decades of prisoners, and claimed that rehabilitation had a minimal effect on recidivism rates. 

As public sentiment and attitudes changed, legislation followed suit. In 1975, California’s legislature passed a sweeping new sentencing law that did away with the state’s focus on rehabilitation and reordered the justice system’s views on punishment and determinate sentences. 

The Willie Horton case, which became pivotal in the 1988 presidential election between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, “reshape[d] the politics of criminal justice for a generation.”  This policy shift continued into the 1990s with the passing of the “three strikes” laws. 

Since the 1980s, California has built 23 prisons and only one new college. The decade’s shift in sentencing policies caused a 510% increase in the state’s prison population, as well as a fiscal spike of over $10 billion in California's budget. 

A Shift Back

After 40 years, sentiment has shifted back. Punitive sentences carry high explicit and implicit costs in terms of both budgetary outlays and social effects on the families and communities of those incarcerated. Lengthy prison sentences make our criminal justice system an outlier compared to the rest of the world, especially compared with other developed democracies. 

In 2014, Californians passed Proposition 47 which reduced many non-serious, non-violent felonies to misdemeanors; the ballot proposal passed with nearly 60% of the vote . Recently passed legislation include the following, current as of 8/30/2016:


SB 881 (Hertzberg) Vehicles: Violations
This bill recommends that state and counties eliminate the use of license suspensions (for nonpublic safety violations) to collect debt, while keeping suspensions in place for serious public safety violations. It maintains all other suspension authorities in the Vehicle Code and explicitly declares that reckless and drunk driving offenses are not included in this change. 
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk
SB 1157 (Mitchell) Strengthening Family Connections: In-person Visitation
This seeks to clarify that the minimum visitation standards, as specified by the Board of State and Community Corrections, ensure that in-person visitation cannot be replaced with video visits and that future construction does not eliminate space for in-person visitation.  It will preserve meaningful visitation rights for adults and youth in local correctional facilities, as well as ensure that those in private prisons are afforded the same rights as those in county-run facilities.  
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk
SB 1242 (Lara) The Strengthening Family Connections Act
Provides that all misdemeanor crimes shall retroactively have a maximum sentence of 364 days. 
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk
AB 2466 (Weber) Voting Rights
Clarifies that only those in state prison or on state parole cannot vote. This bill would also codify the Scott v. Bowen decision affirming the voting rights of some 50,000 people participating in what is called Post Release Community Supervision under AB 109 – the Realignment law.  
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk

AB 2590 (Weber) Sentencing: Restorative Justice
This bill would provide legislative findings and declarations stating that the purpose of sentencing is public safety achieved through accountability, rehabilitation, and restorative justice. The bill would amend the above legislative findings to state that rehabilitative programs should be available to all inmates and would encourage the department to allow all inmates the opportunity to enroll in such  programs to promote successful reentry. 
STATUS: On third reading in Assembly
SB 443 (Mitchell) Forfeiture: Assets: Controlled substances
This bill would require a criminal conviction in order for property to be forfeited to law enforcement and limit the use of equitable sharing of seized property with federal agencies.
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk

SB 1324 (Hancock) Incarceration: Rehabilitation
This bill would find and declare that an additional purpose of imprisonment for crime is rehabilitation (not just punishment). The bill would also find that those purposes are best served by terms proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and with a correctional treatment program designed to address the particular criminogenic needs of offenders.
STATUS: Passed Full Assembly, passed in Senate, headed to Governor’s desk


AB 2061 (Weldon) Supervised Population Workforce Training Grant Program
Section 1234.1 of the Penal Code to be amended: Existing law, until 1/01/2021, established the Supervised Population Workforce Training Grant Program to be administered by the California Workforce Investment Board. Existing law establishes grant program eligibility criteria for counties and provides that eligible uses for grant funds include, but are not limited to, vocational training, stipends for trainees, and apprenticeship opportunities for the supervised population (individuals on probation, mandatory supervision, and post release community supervision). This bill will change the name of “California Workforce Investment Board” to “California Workforce Development Board.” This bill expands preferences to applications by one or more employers who have demonstrated interest in employing individuals in the supervised population, including earn-and-learn opportunities.
STATUS: Signed



SB 966 (Mitchell) Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act
Would have reduced the use of sentencing enhancements for certain prior drug offenses.
STATUS: 6/2/16 Passed Senate Floor (22-14. 4 NVR). Failed in Assembly Public Safety Committee


November 8, 2016 Ballot Initiatives

Prop 57, Public Safety and Rehab Act of 2016 (Brown)

This initiative would 1) require judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether juveniles ages 14 and up should be tried as adults; 2) authorize parole consideration for people convicted of non-violent offenses who have served full sentence for their primary offense; and 3) allow inmates to earn credits toward early release for good behavior, education, and rehabilitation.

Prop 62, Justice that Works Act

This initiative would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole and require these individuals to work and pay most of their wages to the victims’ families.

Prop 64, Adult Use of Marijuana Act
This initiative would allow adults aged 21 years and older to possess marijuana, and grow small amounts at home, for recreational purposes. It would create a regulated and taxed retail industry for marijuana. Tax revenue would be allocated to teen drug prevention and treatment programs, training law enforcement to recognize driving under the influence of drugs, protecting the environment from the harms of illegal marijuana cultivation and supporting economic development in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.
Prop 66, Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act

This initiative would shorten filing periods and adjudication timetables for death row appeals and post-conviction motions, remove the power of the current independent body to determine whether attorneys are qualified to represent people on death row and require defense attorneys to accept appointment in capital cases in order to remain on the court’s appointment list.