California has adopted and funded a program aimed at correcting inappropriate prison sentences.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Resenting Pilot Program into law in the 2021-22 budget. It will begin on Sept. 1.
There are currently nine counties that will be involved in the initial pilot program: Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Riverside, Yolo, Humboldt, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Merced, reported the Davis Vanguard.
“The diversity of these counties is intentional – not only in geography, but in voter base, prosecutor leadership, reentry resources, prison population, and incarceration rates,” said a For The People press release according to the July 22 article. For The People is a national non-profit that works with prosecutors to remedy unjust sentences.
“It will allow for the Legislature to evaluate impact across a wide range of participants. Potential impacts include cost savings to the state, reinvestment in community resources, economic stimulation through workplace reentry, and more,” the press release added.
California’s Legislature passed AB 2942 in 2018. The bill amended the previous Penal Code §§1170 (d)(1) and allowed the District Attorney to revisit past sentences to determine which sentences were no longer in the “interest of justice”, according to the Vanguard.
“When I first conceptualized this law, I never imagined that California would invest millions of dollars in its implementation,” said For the People’s founder and executive director, Hillary Blout.
“After almost three years of working very closely with DAs and community leaders across the state, I am more confident than ever that this collaborative approach will allow us to safely bring more people home from prison. I’m thrilled that California is once again at the forefront of criminal justice reform, and we are eager to get to work.”
The funding will help the implementation of Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing (PIR). PIR is a process first developed by For The People.
“Since its inception, For The People has worked in partnership with community leaders, elected prosecutors, and public defenders to implement PIR. Now, as budget sponsors of the pilot, For The People is supporting the adoption of this process on a larger scale to reunite more families and restore communities,” a For The People release stated.
Los Angeles County DA George Gascón will also receive funding from this new pilot funding program. Gascón has an aggressive resentencing policy already in place.
“The sentences we impose in this country, in this state, and in Los Angeles County are far too long,” he said in December. He’s proposing “judicial resentencing hearings after 15 years of imprisonment for all convicted people.”
Gascón argues: “Justice demands that the thousands of people currently serving prison terms imposed in Los Angeles County under earlier, outdated policies, are also entitled to benefits of these new policies.
“Many of these people have been incarcerated for decades or are serving a ‘virtual life sentence’ designed to imprison them for life. The vast majority of incarcerated people are members of groups long disadvantaged under earlier systems of justice: Black people, people of color, young people, people who suffer from mental illness, and people who are poor. While resentencing alone cannot correct all inequities inherent in our system of justice, it should at least be consistent with policies designed to remedy those inequities.”
Contra Costa County DA Diana Becton believes the funding allows better processing of potentially eligible applicants. It will allow an evaluation of a collaborative approach to conducting resentencing requests, according to the CCDA’s office.
“I was proud to support AB 2942 and this funding further strengthens my office’s ability to process these requests in a timely manner. Excessive sentences undermine our ability to hold the most violent accountable for serious crimes in our community. The strain on the state prison and criminal justice system is immense from these failed policies of our past,” said Becton.
The Public Defender Offices in the pilot program will also receive funding.
Public Defender’s Offices will be “required to direct all funding to the exclusive purpose of supporting resentencing of individuals pursuant to the pilot, including, but not limited to, ensuring adequate staffing of deputy public defenders and other support staff to represent incarcerated persons under consideration for PIR,” said the article.
Two preliminary reports and one final evaluation and assessment will be provided to the California Legislature during the duration of the Pilot program. The reports will include a comparison between the Pilot jurisdictions.