A sentencing commission is being proposed to help solve a variety of problems in California’s criminal justice system.
Supporters say such a commission would allow the state to revisit the purpose of sentencing in this post-Realignment era where the state prisons remain overcrowded. The commission could provide an informed and structured decision-making approach, which already exists in at least 20 other states.
California is in an urgent need of sentencing reform, but the road to get there may be long and arduous, said Kate McCracken of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. She was appointed in 2012 to the new San Francisco Sentencing Commission.
Would a sentencing commission do the job? McCracken asked. Since 1976, a state sentencing commission has been recommended at least nine times.
“During the past 30 years, over 1,000 sentencing enhancement bills passed in the Legislature,” McCracken wrote in a CJCJ blog last year. “The complexity of these bills, as well as their punitive nature, has increased the number of individuals committed to state prison with a trend for longer sentences.”
McCracken noted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is joining the movement toward criminal justice reform. In a speech, Holder decried the system as broken, ineffective and unsustainable.
“It’s time, in fact it’s well past time, to address persistent needs and unwarranted disparities by considering a fundamentally new approach,” Holder said.
McCracken pointed out that the system varies among California’s 58 counties. He noted that four percent of felony drug convictions result in a commitment to prison statewide. But the figures range from 17 percent in Kings County to half of a percent in Contra Costa County.
With this type percent range, it is time for California’s justice system to progress into the 21st century and have fair, equitable and efficient, McCracken said.