Law and Order, National

California Governor Signs Major Drug Sentencing Reform

Source: Drug Policy Alliance

California Legislature Rolls Back Sentencing Enhancement That Experts Say Failed to Reduce Drug Sales or Availabilty

Sacramento, CA—(ENEWSPF)—October 12, 2017

By: Eunisses Hernandez

Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 180, authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell (Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (Long Beach).  With his signature, Brown repealed a three-year sentence enhancement that added additional years to a sentence for prior drug convictions, such as drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. SB 180 the RISE (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act was part of Mitchell and Lara’s Equity and Justice Package, bills intended to address racially biased sentencing.

“People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there’s more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation,” Mitchell said about SB 180 (Mitchell), which was supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. “By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let’s focus on putting ‘justice’ in our criminal-justice system.”

The passage of SB 180 (Mitchell) is a clear message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that California will not roll back years of criminal justice reform efforts driven by Californians and the California legislature. Voters have shown their support for reforms in recent years by voting for Propositions 47, 64, and 57, and advocates applaud lawmakers for demonstrating their commitment to following the will of the people by passing legislation that prioritizes safety and justice instead of punishment.

“The passage of the RISE Act is a strong blow against the failed war on drugs,” said Eunisses Hernandez, Policy Coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is a message to states across the country can move forward, even if Jeff Sessions wants to drag us backward.”

The passage of the RISE Act builds on growing momentum in California to enact criminal justice reforms that divest from ineffective mass incarceration policies. It will free up taxpayer dollars for investment in community-based solutions and services that improve public safety like mental health, substance use treatment, education, and housing.

Mitchell and Lara’s bill repeals a section that provides that when a person is sentenced for a non-violent drug sale offense, he will be subject to an additional three years for each and every prior conviction for a similar offense. Data published by the state sheriffs’ association shows that these enhancements are the leading casue of sentences over five-years, and over ten-years, in county jails.  With the passage of this bill, the base sentence will remain unchanged – up to four or five years for attempting to sell even a small amount of heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

These enhancements were originally intended to deter drug selling, and reduce the availability of controlled substances. As with other punitive drug war strategies, experts say that they are a proven failure — drugs are cheaper, stronger and more widely available than any time in our nation’s history. The death rate from drugs is at its highest point ever.

These enhancements have the effect of sentencing thousands of people in California — mainly young men and women of color — to long periods of incarceration in overcrowded state prisons and county jails, destabilizing families and communities. Furthermore, this failed approach has proven enormously expensive,  robbing state and local budgets that should be spent on schools, health and social services, and policies that actually reduce drug use — drug treatment, after-school programs, and housing, among them.

Advocates applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 180 and his commitment to repealing ineffective and punitive criminal justice policies and prioritizing policies new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

This bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Drug Policy Alliance, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Friends Committee on Legislation of California.