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California State Capitol Building

Photo by Justin Brockie | flickr creative commons

2013 proved to be a significant year for criminal and juvenile justice reform in California. Landmark legislation was passed in SB 260 (Hancock), allowing individuals to petition for a resentencing hearing after serving at least 15 years of a life sentence for an offense committed while a youth. The state also passed AB 218 (Dickinson) that addressed employment discrimination for justice-involved individuals. This policy provides formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance at success during reentry. With the beginning of 2014 just around the corner, it is important to reflect on these successes and the need for continued work in the New Year.

In 2014, community advocates and state policymakers should work together to continue focus on three policy areas and develop solutions that reflect the experiences of California’s most vulnerable populations.

1. Elevate county successes and alternatives to incarceration.

Amid Realignment, the state’s 58 counties have assumed greater local responsibility for managing individuals who were previously managed by the state. Counties have an opportunity to develop local innovative programs that lower recidivism and improved public safety outcomes, at reduced cost to taxpayers. This includes community-based alternatives to incarceration, such as split sentencing. CJCJ has previously reported on potential alternatives that counties can utilize to strengthen outcomes.

The newly formed California Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment is one promising venue for bringing new focus on this issue. Community members and advocates should engage with committee members to highlight county successes and areas for improvement.

2. Strengthen state and county data collection capacity.

As previously noted, data analysis must be a central feature in how the state develops policy and measures its impact. California must ensure that these data are publicly accessible and inform effective oversight for state and local policy. This can only happen if state agencies receive the necessary staffing and resource capacity. Specifically, policymakers and advocates should continue to monitor the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). The BSCC is responsible for oversight and data collection within a broad range of justice policy areas, but nevertheless struggles with meeting this mandate.

3. Focus on how justice policies have a disproportionate impact on youth of color.

The criminal and juvenile justice systems have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, as highlighted by the work of advocates such as the W. Haywood Burns Institute. In California, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color (BMOC), in partnership with the Select Committee of the Status of Boys and Men of Color, has led the policy dialogue on this issue. The committee hearings provide policymakers, advocates, and community members an opportunity to explore these complex issues in detail.

In 2013, California adopted significant state legislation that affected justice-involved youth and adults across a range of issues. Yet innovations in these three policy areas are most effective when they incorporate a wide-range of community voices across the state, not just those cloistered in Sacramento. Hopefully, 2014 will activate greater participation by community-based groups who can bring an expansive perspective to state and local policy that serves the best interests of all Californians.