New Laws Expand Criminal Justice Reforms
Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a number of bills that extend the state’s efforts to reform California’s adult and juvenile criminal justice system. This legislative package supplements previous reforms; several of the new laws could further reduce the state’s prison population, which remains subject to a court-ordered population target. The bills cover issues at all levels, including arrest, conviction, incarceration, and parole.
Arrest and conviction
- SB 395 strengthens protections for arrested minors under the age of 16 by requiring that they confer with an attorney prior to waiving their Miranda rights and being interrogated by police. AB 529 allows juveniles to have their records sealed if they are not convicted. SB 312 allows juvenile offenders convicted of serious or violent offenses committed after the age of 14 to have their records sealed.
- SB 393 allows adults to request that the court seal their records if they are arrested but not convicted.
- Sentence enhancements allow prosecutors to seek additional prison time in certain circumstances—such as the use of a firearm or gang involvement. The number of enhancements has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. SB 180 eliminates the three-year sentence enhancement for certain circumstances related to selling drugs, though it leaves in place the enhancement for using minors in the sale of illegal drugs. SB 620 allows judges the discretion to dismiss or strike sentence enhancements for offenders who are in possession of a firearm while committing a crime.
- AB 1308 and SB 394 raise the age limit for youth parole from 23 to 25, and grant the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders serving life sentences after they serve at least 25 years.
- AB 1448 allows certain offenders older than 60 who have been incarcerated for more than 25 years to be released to parole. It is worth noting that AB 1448 codifies a practice that has been helping the state reduce overcrowding: a total of 557 offenders were released under this program between February 2014 and August 2017.
Impact of supervision on juveniles and families
- SB 625 reinstates honorable discharges for juvenile offenders who have “proven their ability to desist from criminal behavior.” An honorable discharge removes long-term penalties, such as the ban on juvenile offenders working as police officers.
- SB 190 limits the financial liability of families for the housing, transport, or supervision of juvenile offenders.
The goal of these laws is to improve offender outcomes by emphasizing rehabilitation and reentry to the community—and possibly reducing pressure on the state budget. State lawmakers believe these bills are grounded in evidence-based practices. For example, the reduction of long-term penalties for juveniles and young adults is grounded in neuroscientific evidence that decision-making ability does not mature fully until the mid-20s.
Two bills that aim to reform the state’s bail system, AB 42 and SB 10, did not reach the governor’s desk this legislative year. However, the debate over bail reform will most likely continue in 2018. Advocates for reform believe that evidence-based practices that base pre-trial release decisions on an offender’s likelihood of appearing in court or reoffending—not his or her financial means—could significantly reduce the number of pre-trial offenders held in county jails. Opponents believe that the current bail system is the best way to make pre-trial release decisions while protecting public safety.