Like many other states in this country, California developed a “tough-on-crime” policy back in the 1990s.
Like many other states, California has found that its draconian criminal justice system led to more problems – including overcrowded prisons filled with people who would be better served with mental health treatment and those imprisoned for life for relatively minor crimes under the state’s “three strikes” law.
That seems to be changing, and more changes for the better may be on the way. Here’s what you should know.
The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code has had some major successes
The Committee was formed in 2020 in reaction to California’s rising incarceration rates, and they were asked to make recommendations. While earlier efforts to soften some of the hardline judicial stances failed miserably, recent efforts have been largely adopted.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed six of the 10 recommendations the Committee made into law in 2021. These new laws may eventually allow many currently incarcerated prisoners to either be released or have their sentences lowered, and will likely keep many new defendants out of the state prison in the first place.
Some of the new laws include:
- An end to mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses
- Limits to the state’s “gang enhancement” sentencing laws
- Allowing mentally ill prisoners to receive good behavior credits when in a treatment facility
Now, the Committee hopes to tackle bigger changes in the coming year, including an end to the “three strikes” law and the state’s death penalty. They also hope to make changes that will funnel mentally ill defendants into treatment, not jail cells.
Naturally, there’s been pushback from prosecutors and hardliners, especially given the recent increase in violent crimes, including homicides – so there’s a lot of work to be done. Defendants would be mistaken if they expect a “kinder, gentler” approach or any leniency from the prosecutors in their current cases. Change may be coming, but it takes a while for the effect to be felt.