Can California Sentencing Reform Get Past “Political Paralysis”?


As some reformers want California to reduce drug possession and low-level, nonviolent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors as well as more community-based alternatives to incarceration, even modest changes have trouble getting legislative support from Republicans and Democrats alike, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Bipartisan groups of policymakers in conservative states like Texas, Mississippi, and Kentucky have embraced such changes. “There’s a political paralysis here – people are afraid,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, whose 2007 bill to create an independent sentencing commission did not pass. “I think it’s a false fear, but they are afraid of being labeled soft on crime, so they legislate by sound bite. They don’t take up the big issues, so years pass and we are in the same predicament.”

Barry Krisberg, a criminal justice expert at the University of California Berkeley, blame prosecutors. “The question is, what’s wrong with us? Are we more conservative than Virginia? Are we more irrational than North Carolina?” he said. “It’s the politics, and it’s the dilemma of this state. [ ] Unlike almost all the other states, we have been unable to get the two parties to sit down and cut a deal. It’s not the prison guards – they are not standing in the way. It’s not victims’ rights groups. It’s really the District Attorneys Association.”

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