An ambitious plan to overhaul California’s criminal sentencing structure is facing dim prospects, says the Sacramento Bee. Two proposed bills would create a sentencing commission with the ability to change the length of prison terms. A spokesman says Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is dubious of the proposals because “he thinks that final authority (on sentencing laws) should be with elected officials who are accountable to the people.” State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who wrote one bill, said that forming a sentencing commission represents perhaps the state’s last and best hope to prevent a federal court from imposing a population cap on California’s massively overcrowded prison system.
Schwarzenegger has favored a sentencing panel that would make nonbinding recommendations to elected leaders. In signing a $7.9 billion bill that will add 53,000 beds to state and local correctional systems, Schwarzenegger said the sentencing and parole-overhaul proposals still would be “on the table” as the legislative session moved forward. Romero would set up a 20-member commission — 16 of whom would vote — including the corrections secretary, the state attorney general, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, prosecutors, crime victims’ advocates, labor representatives, inmates’ rights lawyers, academics and other members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. More than 20 states, as well as the federal government and the District of Columbia, have sentencing commissions. Supporters say they bring consistency to sentencing, increasing time and reserving scarce prison space for the worst offenders, while expanding alternatives for lesser offenders.