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September 1, 2018 Eunisses Hernandez: 213-226-6426, Glenn Backes: 916-202-2538
California Assembly Passes Bill to Allowing Judges to Strike Mandatory Sentence Enhancement for Prior Felony Convictions
Bill Now Heads to the Governor’s Desk
Sacramento, CA — On August 31, 2018 the California Assembly voted to pass Senate Bill 1393, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara with a vote of 41 to 31. SB 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act, restores judicial discretion to the application of the mandatory 5-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person’s record at the time when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. The bill is part of Senator Mitchell and Senator Lara’s Equity and Justice Package of 2018, which seeks justice reforms for juveniles and adults. Governor Brown has until September 30th to sign or veto this sentencing reform.
“Mass incarceration is a massive moral failure and policy failure,” said Senator Mitchell. “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 and Brown communities. The passage of this bill is a victory for families and communities who have faced separation and destabilization for too long as a result of California’s complicated and punitive justice system.”
California has some of the most severe sentence enhancements in the nation. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions. PPIC states that 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. One of the most commonly used sentence enhancements is the five year enhancement for serious priors. According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as of 2016, there are close to 100,000 years’ worth of the five year sentence enhancement applied to people currently under CDCR custody.
The Fair and Just Sentencing Reform bill will help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by allowing judges to decide what is best in the interest of justice.
“We have seen the application of this mandatory enhancement for over 30 years. It is about time the California Legislature says, no more to failed and punitive policies,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Statewide Co-Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Our coalition is looking forward to seeing the California Legislature advance even more changes around extreme sentencing, including continuing to address sentencing enhancements. California communities are depending on leadership that continues to approach public safety in ways that strengthen safety and keep families together.”
The passage of this bill 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. This bill also builds on the efforts of the California legislature, who passed 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.
Advocates and community members who have lived through extreme sentences laud lawmakers for demonstrating their commitment to address failed policies.
Co-sponsors of the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act include ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, 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 of California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pillars of the Community, Tides Advocacy, and Women’s Foundation of California.