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System reformers from CJCJ, the Ella Baker Center, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Friends Committee on Legislation in California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Children’s Defense Fund, National Center for Youth Law, and more celebrate a successful day of advocacy in the Capitol.

Jennifer Kim, Ella Baker Center

California’s 2015 legislative session is well upon us, with hundreds of bills aiming to reform the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Many of these bills are strongly aligned with CJCJ’s mission of reducing society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems, and we and our allies are actively supporting this body of legislation through advocacy at the Capitol, research and data analysis, and community outreach. 

This year, CJCJ’s legislative priorities include:

SB 498 (Hancock), co-sponsored by CJCJ, Human Rights Watch, the Youth Law Center, National Center for Youth Law, California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice, and W. Haywood Burns Institute, would expand the type of data collected and reported on youth transferred to adult criminal court. The decision to transfer a young person to the adult system is a critical one, with severe and life-long consequences for the youth and, research shows, a negative impact on public safety. This process must be made more transparent so its impact on youth and communities can be evaluated.

SB 224 (Liu) would codify and expand the current elderly parole program, which allows parole consideration for elderly incarcerated people serving extremely long sentences. As part of the federal court order to alleviate unconstitutionally inhumane levels of overcrowding in California’s prisons, the state recently implemented a program that allows parole consideration for people over the age of 60 who have served at least 25 years of their current sentence. SB 224 would expand eligibility to people who are over 50 and have served at least 15 years. Providing parole hearings for this population is a common sense, low-risk way to reduce incarceration, treat elderly people with compassion, and begin making communities whole. The parole board is notoriously over-scrupulous, and those released by the board have an extremely low rate of recidivism. Because age is inversely correlated with recidivism , the potential risk presented by these elders would be even more minuscule than their younger peers. 

SB 124 (Leno) seeks to restrict the use of solitary confinement for youth in juvenile facilities, including juvenile halls, probation camps, and DJJ. This traumatic practice, widely recognized as torture, increases risk of suicide, damages mental health, and prevents youth from accessing programming and education services. It is an inhumane and inappropriate response to behavioral problems, many of which stem from mental health difficulties — which are exacerbated by this punishment. 

AB 926 (Jones-Sawyer) would create an earned compliance credit program for people on parole — i.e., time off parole for time in compliance with parole conditions — and redirect savings to housing and employment support for people on parole. CJCJ provides reentry support for hundreds of adults exiting the prison system every year, many of whom are homeless. Returning to the community after incarceration can be overwhelmingly difficult and isolating for our clients; this bill would provide critical support during this period of extreme vulnerability, while expediting the process by which people who have successfully and safely paroled can become enfranchised and free members of their communities. 

AB 666 (Stone) builds upon a bill passed last year, SB 1038 (Leno), in expanding the types of juvenile records that would be automatically sealed. Juvenile records, like adult criminal records, make it difficult for people to find employment, obtain driver’s licenses, receive federal aid, and obtain citizenship. Before SB 1038, these records were not automatically sealed — the onus was on the person with the record to petition the courts (often at a steep cost) to seal his or her record. Since SB 1038 went into effect this year, juvenile court records are automatically sealed; AB 666 makes the critical addition of arrest records to this process.

Other bills supported by CJCJ include:

  • AB 267 (Jones-Sawyer): requires the court to inform people of the consequences of a felony conviction before they accept a plea bargain
  • SB 504 (Lara): Eliminates the fee for sealing juvenile records
  • AB 512 (Stone): increases the amount of time off a sentence a person can earn through rehabilitative programming
  • SB 219 (Liu): codifies and expands access to the Alternative Custody Program
  • SB 261 (Hancock): expands Youth Offender Parole Hearings to people under the age of 23
  • AB 619 (Weber): enhances transparency and accountability on uses of force by law enforcement
  • AB 953 (Weber): prevents racial profiling by law enforcement
  • SB 759 (Anderson): requires data collection and reporting on prisoners housed in Secured Housing Units (SHUs), and restores time credit eligibility for those prisoners.

If these bills are signed into law, they would take small but important steps in the pursuit of CJCJ’s goal of a humane and effective justice system that recognizes the origins of crime in trauma, poverty, and systemic racism — and does not rely on punishment and incarceration to address those problems. For more information on how to get involved with supporting these bills, contact CJCJ’s policy analyst.