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Criminal and juvenile justice policymaking often involves hard choices, where elected officials must choose between perceived political expediency and that which is best for public safety. It is difficult to question preconceived assumptions about crime and rehabilitation, and policymakers who propose reform of the status quo, through sentencing reform or other means, face considerable risk from their colleagues, constituents, and interest groups.

Since 2008, California has been fortunate to have Assemblymember Tom Ammiano leading reform of our state justice system. He has pursued this with thoughtful policymaking that recognizes the need for sentencing reform, community-based alternatives to incarceration, and justice reinvestment strategies. With Ammiano’s departure at the end of the 2014 legislative session, Californians should reflect on this leadership and recognize the need for policymakers to continue his legacy in the forthcoming legislative session.

Assemblymember Ammiano has a long and storied career in community organizing and politics. A former public school teacher, Ammiano joined with Harvey Milk and others to lead the successful fight in the 1970s against discriminatory policies within California that targeted individuals based on their sexual orientation. He was elected to the San Francisco’s Board of Education and then the Board of Supervisors.

Presently Assemblymember Ammiano represents California’s 17th Assembly District, which includes a substantial part of San Francisco. In the 2013 – 14 legislative session, he served as the Chair of Assembly Committee on Public Safety and the Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment. In San Francisco, criminal and juvenile justice reform has taken shape through innovative partnerships between systems leaders, community-based organizations and advocates. Ammiano consistently drew on this experience through his committee leadership and policymaking career.

The 2013 TRUST Act proved one of his signature pieces of legislation, which limited the impact of ICE hold requests on people who are undocumented. Prior analysis by CJCJ showed the negative impact of ICE holds on public safety outcomes and community trust. Ammiano also introduced legislation on a variety of other policy areas, including education and affordable housing.

For his last floor session in the legislature, Ammiano introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 885, which would address the issues of prosecutorial misconduct. At this session, his colleagues remembered Ammiano as a leader of strong conviction and champion for social reform. While his voice and vigilant advocacy will be missed, this legacy will continue with his groundbreaking work. For that, all Californians should be thankful.