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San Francisco leading the way to sentencing reform

In the face of historic opposition to a statewide sentencing commission, San Francisco County established a local sentencing commission January 2012 to address the county's sentencing policies and practices.

Twenty-two states across the U.S. have established sentencing commissions to assist in the development and administration of a fair justice system.  Policy makers require strong data-analysis to inform the previous and future decisions centered on sentencing policies and practices.  Data analysis can aid in forecasting the effects of a law's implementation on the prison population.   Sentencing reform and a sentencing commission have long been supported by several distinguished panels, including the Little Hoover Commission.  Such a commission has been the subject of 8 bills since 1984 and has established precedent for administering fair and equitable justice in 22 other states.  

The San Francisco Sentencing Commission will be a significant resource for the county's criminal justice system.  The advisory body reports directly to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's Office and is charged with producing recommendations that affect local and statewide sentencing practices.  Comprised of a broad array of voices including practitioners, researchers, law enforcement representatives, and advocates, this body has the potential to lead the way for California.  This is another demonstration of local innovation and dedication to creating an effective criminal justice system.

Perhaps even more uniquely, San Francisco's new Sentencing Commission was born out the local courageous leadership of San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascón.  Through the demonstration of dedicated staff time and fiscal resources, the City's District Attorney is highlighting his office's commitment to sentencing reform in the era of Realignment.

California is now in its ninth month of adult corrections realignment under AB 109 and counties continue to show radically different sentencing practices statewide.  Across its 58 counties, California has a system that can be described as justice by geography, whereby the location of arrest is a stronger indicator of criminal justice system involvement than the actual offense committed.  Crime rates in California have been plummeting since the 1990's yet the state's inmate population has continued to escalate to our current state of mass incarceration.  If it is clear that increasing crime rates were not the driver for the state's current system of mass incarceration, what can be attributed to the rise in the state's prison and jail populations?  During the past three decades, over 1,000 sentencing laws have been added to the California Penal Code.  These laws have exacerbated the prison and jail crisis resulting in a disparate system.

Realignment is a first step towards reducing counties over-reliance on incarceration.  Realignment by itself; however, will not achieve the overhaul required to cultivate a more uniform and equitable justice system in California.  A crucial aspect of true reform will require an analysis and review of the state's current sentencing practices.   Through the San Francisco Sentencing Commission the county has taken a courageous first step at addressing the inequalities in sentencing practices.  

Keywords: AB 109, Kate McCracken, local policy, San Francisco

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices, Sentencing

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California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

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