‘We might have to look more holistically at the penal code to see if it makes sense, to see if some of the structures of sentencing are too harsh, especially with various kinds of enhancements’
A Stanford University law professor reaffirmed the need for further reform of California’s sentencing laws in an interview held on the anniversary of Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012.
California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36 in November 2012. Proposition 36 amended the Three Strikes Law so a third strike, which carries a 25-year-to-life sentence, must generally be a serious or a violent felony. It also provides for petitions for reduction of sentence by prisoners who are serving life sentences for crimes that no longer qualified as third strikes.
“The interesting thing about Proposition 36 is that it was a major structural change in the penal code, in the sentencing law. I do think that, and the governor has indicated this, we might have to look more holistically at the penal code to see if it makes sense, to see if some of the structures of sentencing are too harsh, especially with various kinds of enhancements,” said Robert Weisberg in an interview with “The California Report” show on KQED last November. Weisberg is a professor of law and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.
When Proposition 36 passed, it was the first time that voters, anywhere in the United States, passed a retroactive sentence reduction for inmates, according to Scott Shafer of “The California Report.”
“If you look around the nation over the last 15 years or so, there’s been what you might call a fair amount of political buyer’s remorse about the extremely harsh sentencing regimes that were instituted,” Weisberg said, “…and we’ve had a lot of initiatives that had led to reductions in incarceration in other places.”
Indeed, in recent years Congress has stepped up efforts to reform the federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws — having passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013.
Mandatory minimum drug sentences have significantly contributed to overcrowding and racial disparities in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. BOP is operating at about 140 percent of capacity.
Similarly, the California Blue Ribbon Commission in its 2005 report on corrections identified the draconian and confusing sentence enhancement laws as the primary cause of overcrowding in California’s prisons and urged the governor and the legislature to reform them. Not coincidentally, the state corrections system is running at about 140 percent capacity, dropping from over 180 percent after federal court orders.
Also interviewed on “The California Report” show was Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney of San Diego County. Of the more than 130 prisoners released to San Diego County under Proposition 36 only two have reoffended. Dumanis cautioned, however, “I’m really worried that with the Realignment, and the Three Strikes, and all that’s going on with limited resources, that there is a definite public safety risk.”