Approved by a wide margin, Proposition 57 increases parole opportunities for non-violent offenders, and reforms court trial requirements for juveniles.  The measure, supported by two-thirds of voters, aims to increase the number of state prisoners who are eligible for parole and reform the process of charging juveniles as adults.

Non-violent offenders will now be able to earn credits for good behavior and enrollment in educational programs to incentivize early release from state prisons and reduce California’s prison population.

Prop 57 transfers the decision to charge juvenile offenders in adult courts from prosecutors to judges, and removes the requirement for sentencing to occur within 48 hours of arrest. According to reports by the W. Haywood Burns Institute, judges are better able to assess the circumstances surrounding justice-involved youth, and can recommend rehabilitative services only offered in the juvenile justice system.

Legislative Updates

SIGNED - approved by governor

AB 2590 (Weber) Sentencing: Restorative Justice
This bill provides 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.

AB 1843 (Stone) Employers and Juvenile Offense History
Amends the Labor Code to limit employer inquiries into juvenile offense history.  Provides that an employer cannot ask a job applicant about juvenile justice system involvement, including arrest, prosecution or participation in a  diversion program. 

SB 1084 (Hancock) Juvenile Sentencing
Provides a process for recall and re-sentencing of state prison inmates with life-without-parole for crimes committed while a juvenile. Maintains the discretion of the court to impose an appropriate sentence in the best interest of justice. 

SB 1143 (Leno) Juvenile Confinement
Provides that room confinement will not be used before less restrictive options have been exhausted.  Room confinement shall not be used as punishment, coercion, convenience or retaliation by staff, and shall not be used when it compromises the mental or physical well-being of the minor.

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. 

SB 1242 (Lara) The Strengthening Family Connections Act
Provides that all misdemeanor crimes shall retroactively have a maximum sentence of 364 days. 

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. 


SB 1157 (Mitchell) Strengthening Family Connections: In-person Visitation
Clarifies 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: Vetoed by Governor


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.