Recent violent events have prompted state legislators to propose bills that would create new felony criminal offenses, potentially putting more people in prison, the Los Angeles Times reports.
This comes just seven months after California reduced its prison population to a level deemed acceptable by the federal courts, according to the report.
|“It is usually the ‘high-profile, high emotion’ cases that override concerns about prison crowding”|
“It is usually the ‘high-profile, high emotion’ cases that override concerns about prison crowding,” said Lizzie Buchen, state coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, according to Paige St. John, reporting from Sacramento for the Times.
High-profile cases this year include serial murders in Orange County and a shooting rampage at the University of California at Santa Barbara in which six people were killed.
“Legislators are willing to overlook the potential impact on the prison population when it is something as emotional as that,” says Buchen, the Times reports.
Four new felony offenses are being proposed:
SB 333 by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, would make possession of any “date rape” drug a felony punishable by up to three years in the county jail.
SB 722 by Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, would require fugitive sex offenders to spend up to three years in prison, thereby addressing the problem of GPS monitor disabling and circumvention.
AB 256 by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, would make it a felony to alter or delete video evidence, with a punishment of up to five years in prison.
SB 347 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would add theft of a gun or bringing ammunition onto school grounds to the list of misdemeanors that can block gun ownership. California already bars those who commit violent misdemeanor crimes from owning a firearm for ten years.
In responding to the high rate of incarceration and overcrowding problems, the state Senate Committee on Public Safety requires that legislation be scrutinized for its impact on the prison system, says St. John.
“Since February, the prison population has been within required limits, and legislative staff members now say that the state must only show it can keep crowding down.” St. John notes.
“Issues of overcrowding are now evolving into broader concerns about the length of sentences and purpose of incarceration,” said the spokesperson for committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Oakland.
Passage of new felonies does not mean prison overcrowding is no longer important, just that new crimes are more so, said Tim Yarnan, lobbyist for the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
If approved by legislators, the bills would still need the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has recently vetoed bills that would have created three new misdemeanors.