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February 19 marked the deadline for submitting new bills to the California Legislature. As newly proposed legislation begins its journey through the Capitol, juvenile and criminal justice advocates are reviewing hundreds of bills and coalescing around key legislation that could alter the justice landscape of California. While an upcoming blog will outline CJCJ’s full legislative agenda for 2016, this post aims to highlight three recent bills that closely align with CJCJ’s mission to reduce California’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems: Senate Bill (SB) 1157, Senate Bill (SB) 1031, and Senate Bill (SB) 1110.

SB 1157 (Mitchell) Inmates: Visitation

SB 1157 would halt the increasingly common practice of substituting video visitation for in-person visits at county jails throughout the state. Senator Holly Mitchell’s bill would allow incarcerated individuals to maintain strong family relationships by safeguarding access to in-person visitation. Research shows that visitation is critical to keeping families connected during periods of incarceration. Family relationships, sustained through in-person visits, can ease post-release reentry and reduce recidivism. Contact is particularly important for the children of incarcerated individuals, as they benefit from regular in-person visits to foster and maintain healthy relationships.

CJCJ’s support for this bill stems from our work with the families of incarcerated individuals at San Francisco’s County Jail #4. Through one of the services offered by CJCJ’s Children’s Waiting Rooms (CWR) program, men incarcerated in the jail can engage in contact visits with their children in a supportive, child-friendly environment. These contact visits demonstrate the value of face-to-face interactions between parents and their children. CJCJ’s Deputy Director Dinky Manek Enty, explains that for the more than 2.7 million children in the US with an incarcerated parent, the value of hugging and kissing their parent is immeasurable. The impact of a positive family relationship on a child’s healthy development can’t be quantified. We have a great responsibility to ensure children have the opportunity to feel their parent, to support a child’s rapidly developing sense of self.”

SB 1031 (Hancock) Juvenile Justice Information System

SB 1031 would establish the Juvenile Justice Information System, a repository for juvenile justice data that would track and analyze the system-involvement and outcomes of youth. Senator Loni Hancock’s bill is the result of months of study by the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) and their Juvenile Justice Data Working Group. In January, this group submitted a report to the Legislature that described the current state of juvenile justice data collection in California and emphasized a need for jurisdictional data sharing and centralized collection and analysis. According to the report, local juvenile justice data systems are stand-alone, intra-county data systems or networks that do not share data directly with other counties.” At present, California does not collect adequate data on race, gender, age or offense type in local juvenile jurisdictions — all of which are necessary to assess county systems for disparities and trends.

CJCJ’s policy team has monitored the work of the BSCC since its inception and has consistently advocated for integrated data collection that improves criminal and juvenile justice programs and policy. CJCJ supports SB 1031 because it would allow California jurisdictions to measure the effectiveness of local juvenile justice systems, develop evidence-based programming, and support overdue research on the outcomes of youth in California’s juvenile justice system.

SB 1110 (Hancock) Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion

SB 1110 would establish three California pilot programs modeled after Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). The Seattle program, which launched in 2011, creates an alternative to arrest for individuals suspected of drug or prostitution offenses. In place of an arrest, jail booking, and possible conviction, individuals are evaluated by law enforcement officers and diverted to an appropriate evidence-based program, such as substance use treatment or employment training. LEAD has been shown to reduce recidivism by 60 percent in the first six months after diversion, saving the legal and criminal systems $7,000 annually for each individual diverted.

Senator Hancock is working to address persistent re-arrest for low-level drug and prostitution offenses by bringing this model to California. CJCJ supports SB 1110 because it would reduce local reliance on incarceration and increase access to the kinds of community-based support that directly address the underlying causes of frequent re-arrest.