Idea Of CA Sentencing Commission Faces Long Odds Despite Prison Crowding


Key California lawmakers last summer suggested that a commission to review and overhaul criminal sentences could bring coherence to a disjointed system and perhaps ease chronic prison overcrowding. The Sacramento Bee says the idea appears stalled, despite the incentive of federal litigation that could force Gov. Jerry Brown to release as many as 10,000 inmates next spring. Lawmakers chastened by a history of unsuccessful sentencing commission bills hold out little hope that this time could be different. “These issues are hard,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “They're hard to bite off politically.”

Supporters argue that a steady accumulation of different regulations, layered on top of one another over time, has led to a labyrinth of sentencing guidelines. “There is a lot of disproportionate punishment in our penal code, and that's because not uncommonly a horrible crime may be committed in someone's district and so the response is legislatively to get tougher,” said Sen. Mark Leno. In general, state sentencing commissions are independent bodies, appointed by officials, that study a state's galaxy of sentencing laws and condense them into a comprehensive framework. They issue guidelines that would increase or decrease sentences for various categories of crimes. That disturbs legislators wary about constituents – or future electoral opponents – who could hold them responsible for changes that emanated from an unelected body.

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