Press Release  | 04/05/2011

Gov. Brown Signs Bill to Shift Incarceration for Low-Level Felonies to Counties

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Advocates Criticize Failure to Address Excessive Sentencing or Fund Drug, Mental Health Treatment and Other Prevention Services

Sacramento – Governor Brown signed a bill yesterday that would keep individuals convicted of low-level felony offenses at the county level, either on probation or in jail, for terms of 16 months, two years or three years. Although signed into law, the policy change is contingent on the securing of new funding for county law enforcement. Advocates criticized the plan for shifting the state's corrections overcrowding and overspending problems to counties, for failing to fund demonstrated crime prevention services, including drug treatment and mental health care, and for failing to include much-needed sentencing reforms.

"This plan is a shell game that would simply shift corrections costs from the state to the counties without addressing the real problem: California is locking up too many people for low-level offenses for too long," said Allen Hopper, police practices director with the ACLU of Northern California. "The cost of mass incarceration is robbing the people of California of vitally needed services, including education and healthcare. What we need is real sentencing reform, such as shortening the sentences for simple possession drug crimes. It's time for California to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating people who pose no threat to public safety."

"This plan would allow people to be locked up in local jails for up to three years, triple the current limit. Research consistently shows that longer sentences do not produce better outcomes. In fact, shorter sentences coupled with re-entry and prevention tactics are both more effective and more cost-effective," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We're talking about people convicted of low-level offenses, like drug possession, prostitution and petty theft, often related to a drug problem. But the plan doesn't include a dime for drug treatment or mental health care. In fact, the governor has proposed reducing funds for those services."

"Any California corrections reform must include sentencing reform," said Kris Lev-Twombly, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "A felony conviction is a life-long sentence that should not be applied to low-level offenses. No matter how old the conviction, people with a felony on their record will face significantly diminished employment opportunities and much lower lifetime earnings. They may also be prohibited from accessing student loans, food stamps and other public assistance. This works against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety."

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at 213-291-4190

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