We are wishing you all well during these unprecedented and tumultuous times.
Here at the California Healing Justice Team, we just completed an exciting and dramatic state legislative year. There were some incredible wins, some devastating losses, and lots of late nights as we advocated for visionary legislation to address systemic racism in our courts; due process in our prisons; and community-based emergency response programs. Read below for updates on the status of these and other important bills!
In addition, we are excited to share our endorsements on two vital California ballot initiatives that will have an enormous impact on our criminal legal system. There is a lot to consider on the ballot this year – read on to get the low-down on why we’re urging you to vote YES on Prop 17 and NO on Prop 20!
As always, we are grateful for your ongoing support of AFSC and the work of our Healing Justice Team.
Fatimeh, John, Paul, Chris, and Elizabeth
AFSC California Healing Justice Team
YES on Proposition 17 [Approved by voters on November 3]
Proposition 17 will amend the California Constitution so that Californians who have completed their prison terms can participate in democracy by restoring their right to vote.
Right now, nearly 50,000 Californians who have returned home from prison are systematically denied the opportunity to help choose the representatives and policies that impact their daily lives, simply because they are on parole. These individuals are raising families, holding jobs, paying taxes, and contributing to society in every other way.
The act of denying a person the right to vote because of their status as a currently or formerly incarcerated person – felony disenfranchisement – disproportionately impacts people of color, who are overly policed and caged in our communities because of systemic racism. Currently, three quarters of men leaving California prisons are Black, Latino, or Asian American – this means that our state constitution is locking people of color out of the voting booth.
Research shows that restoring a person’s voting rights helps those who have served their prison sentence strengthen their connection to the community. When people feel that they are valued members of their community and that their voices matter and concerns are addressed, they are less likely to re-engage in criminal activity.
Restoring voting rights to individuals on parole will strengthen our democracy, address systemic racial biases in our constitution, and make us safer. For these reasons, AFSC strongly recommends a YES vote on Proposition 17.
NO on Proposition 20 [Rejected by voters on Nov. 3]
Proposition 20 seeks to embed California more firmly in a culture of punishment and incarceration by rolling back many of the historic and vital gains that our movement has made in recent years, including through Propositions 47, 57, and Assembly Bill 109.
If passed, Prop 20 would make it easier to charge low-level crimes like bicycle theft as a serious felony. It would drop the felony theft threshold from $950 to $250 and create a brand-new set of felony crimes. For people inside prisons, Prop 20 would restrict access to rehabilitative programs, making it harder for these individuals to earn credits towards release. Prop 20 also violates privacy by requiring persons convicted of certain misdemeanors, like shoplifting, to submit to the collection of a DNA sample.
According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, if these changes went into effect, it would lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual incarceration costs, further crowd state prisons and jails, interrupt California’s record-low rates of crime by diverting funds back towards incarceration, and further devastate families and communities, particularly those of color, by increasing certain offenses to felonies and making it harder for people to come home.
This is a dangerous initiative that tries to undo many of the wins that AFSC has fought for. We strongly believe in building a world that does not rely on incarceration and punitive approaches to harm, but instead embodies a healing justice approach. For these reasons, AFSC strongly recommends a NO vote on Proposition 20.
California 2020 Legislation - Signed Bills
AB 2542 (Kalra) California Racial Justice Act will prohibit the state from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction, or from imposing a sentence, based upon race, ethnicity or national origin. The Act will now make it possible for a person charged or convicted of a crime to challenge racial bias in their case, through evidence of:
1. Exhibited racial bias by an attorney, judge, law enforcement officer, expert witness, or juror involved in the case.
2. Use of racially discriminatory language during the trial, whether or not purposeful or directed at a defendant.
3. Racial bias in jury selection, such as removing all or nearly all people of color from the jury.
4. Statistical disparities in charging and convictions – that is, evidence that people of one race are disproportionately charged or convicted of a specific crime or enhancement.
5. Statistical disparities in sentencing – that is, evidence that people of one race receive longer or more severe sentences, including the death penalty or life without parole.
AB 3070 (Weber) aims to eliminate discrimination in jury selection. The purpose of this bill is to change the procedures to determine whether peremptory challenges and challenges for cause have been improperly used to exclude juror(s) because of their race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin or religious affiliation, or perceived membership with any of those groups.
AB 1950 (Kamlager) Existing law authorizes courts that have jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases to suspend the sentence and make and enforce terms of probation in those cases, for a period not to exceed 3 years, except when the period of the maximum sentence imposed by law exceeds 3 years, in which case the terms of probation may be imposed for a longer period than 3 years, but not to exceed the time for which the person may be imprisoned. This bill would instead restrict the period of probation for a misdemeanor to no longer than one year, except as specified.
AB 3234 (Ting) This bill would authorize a judge in the superior court in which a misdemeanor is being prosecuted to offer misdemeanor diversion to a defendant over the objection of a prosecuting attorney, except as specified. The bill would authorize the judge to continue a diverted case for a period not to exceed 24 months and order the defendant to comply with the terms, conditions, and programs the judge deems appropriate based on the defendant's specific situation. The bill would require the judge, at the end of the diversion period to dismiss the action against the defendant and would deem the arrest upon which diversion was imposed to have never occurred. The bill would authorize the court to end the diversion and order resumption of the criminal proceedings if the court finds that the defendant is not complying with the terms and conditions of diversion. Existing law establishes the Elderly Parole Program for the purpose of reviewing the parole suitability of prisoners who are 60 years of age or older and who have served a minimum of 25 years of continuous incarceration on their sentence. This bill would modify the minimum age limitation for that program to 50 years of age and instead require the prisoner to have served a minimum of 20 years of continuous incarceration in order to be eligible for that program.
AB 1185 (McCarty) After the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other unarmed Black Americans, there is a national demand for greater accountability and transparency in policing. Use-of-force and bias complaints are often kept internal to law enforcement agencies, shielded from public view and public accountability. Common Cause supported two bills this year to remove the veil of secrecy around policing abuse. AB
1185 (McCarty) now authorizes counties to create Sheriff Oversight Boards with subpoena power to provide independent review of county law enforcement, including allegations of excessive force and misconduct.
California 2020 Legislation - Vetoed Bills
SB 776 (Skinner) would have changed current law so that all police use-of-force records and allegations of racial bias and sexual misconduct would become disclosable public records, no longer hidden from the public and press. We expect the bill to be reintroduced next year.
SB 1064 (Skinner) would prohibit an employee of, or private entity under contract with, CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) from finding any state prisoner guilty of a rules violation if that finding or decision is based on, or relies on, in whole or in part, any information from an in-custody confidential informant that is neither corroborated nor reliable. The bill would additionally prohibit an employee of, or private entity under contract with, the board from making a finding or decision about any state prisoner that is based on, or relies on, in whole or in part, uncorroborated allegations from an in-custody confidential informant that have not been found true following a disciplinary hearing at which the subject was provided notice, among other requirements. The bill would require a state prisoner to receive, 10 days before these types of proceedings, a summary notice of any information provided by an in-custody confidential informant that may be used in the decision that includes, among other things, the actual or approximate date the information was provided to the department. The bill would define when information from an in-custody confidential informant is corroborated or reliable. A veto message can be found here.
AB 2054 (Kamlager) This bill would have enacted the Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems Act (C.R.I.S.E.S. Act) for the purpose of creating, implementing, and evaluating the C.R.I.S.E.S. Act Grant Pilot Program, which the act would establish. The bill would require the Office of Emergency Services to establish rules and regulations for the act with the goal of making grants to community organizations, over 3 years, for the purpose of expanding the participation of community organizations in emergency response for specified vulnerable populations. The bill would require that grantees receive a minimum award of $250,000 per year. The bill would require a community organization receiving funds pursuant to the program to use the grant to stimulate and support involvement in emergency response activities that do not require a law enforcement officer, as specified.