Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill restricting gang enhancements in sentencing, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
This bill is the latest in a series that the governor hopes will relax tough-on-crime policies from previous administrations that led to huge racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“Gang enhancements have long been used against people of color far more frequently than their White counterparts,” Democratic Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager told the AP.
The bill was originally proposed by Kamlager, who also served on the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code.
The Committee found that “99% of those given a gang enhancement in Los Angeles County are people of color.”
The leader of the committee, Michael Romano, said that the committee “is committed to improving public safety for all Californians while reducing unnecessary incarceration and inequity in the criminal legal system.”
The California Police Chiefs Association said that the bill could force prosecutors to prove the crime was gang-related prior to adding the enhancement.
The California District Attorneys Association said in a statement that judges “should be given discretion and flexibility” in cases involving gang members, using systems already in place.
Another bill signed by Newsom and sponsored by Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner requires judges to give “great weight” to mitigating circumstances that favor dismissing enhancements that can greatly extend the length of prison sentences.
“The bill sends a clear message to our courts: Let’s use sentence enhancements judiciously and only when necessary to protect the public,” Skinner said.