Retooling America’s Prosecutors

Prosecutors, who are among the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, have been targets of public criticism in recent years. The main reason is an accumulation of wrongful convictions. A National Registry of Exonerations has identified   1,884 such cases, although some date from the 1980s. Even if the vast majority of cases filed by prosecutors are on target, it just takes a few major errors— even if they were committed decades ago—to cast a pall over the profession as a … [Read more...]

California Embraces Criminal-Justice Reform

More than 40 years after ushering in tough crime laws that led to massive prison overcrowding, Gov. Jerry Brown is spending millions of dollars to try to reform California's criminal justice system. Brown wants to make thousands of nonviolent inmates eligible for early parole and revamp decades-old determinate sentencing laws that he acknowledges came with "unintended consequences." The fourth-term Democratic governor's push for a state constitutional amendment has set off a power struggle … [Read more...]

Making Things a Little Fairer in California, One Bill at a Time

California now has some of the strongest protections against policing for profit in the country Working with a broad coalition of racial justice, immigrants’ rights, labor, and civil libertarian organizations, we sponsored and passed SB 443, a bill to rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse. For years, California police have used federal law to take and keep a share of someone’s money or property without convicting, charging, or even arresting that person for a crime. This tipped the scales of … [Read more...]

100,000 People Call for End to Prison Gerrymandering

In June, the Census Bureau announced plans to continue counting incarcerated people as residents of their prison, not home, addresses in the 2020 Census, and invited public comments on their proposal. Almost 100,000 people including civil rights organizations, elected officials at all levels of government, former Directors of the Census Bureau and citizens from across the country weighed in to tell the Census Bureau that a prison is not a residence. The comment period closed last week on … [Read more...]

Brown’s Criminal Justice Initiative’s Signatures Submitted

Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative may be heading for the fall ballot after proponents on Friday began submitting hundreds of thousands of signatures. Dana Williamson, a former Brown confidant who is spearheading the campaign, posted a photo online of several cardboard boxes filled with signed petitions and tweeted that the campaign had turned in “nearly a million” signatures. Brown needs about 585,500 valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot, though a court challenge to … [Read more...]

Detaining the Poor

New report finds that people detained pretrial are too poor to afford money bail People in local jails are significantly poorer than non-incarcerated people, and even poorer than people in prison, finds a new report by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative. Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time connects the large pretrial population in local jails to the criminal justice system’s reliance on money bail. “I kept hearing that 80% of … [Read more...]

State Supreme Court Appears Hesitant to Block Brown’s Criminal Justice Measure

California’s Supreme Court justices voiced skepticism Thursday about a challenge to Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative. Justices heard oral arguments in a case brought by the California District Attorneys Association. The case is not a challenge to the substance of Brown’s initiative, aimed at reducing the state’s prison population, but rather to the way in which proponents attempted to speed up the process of getting the measure on the November ballot. A loss in the case would … [Read more...]

Asset Forfeiture’s Unintended Poor Victims

Who knew the aggressive law enforcement tool to weaken and discourage organized crime would sweep up unintended poor victims who are unjustly losing their property? Here in California there is proposed legislation to correct this travesty and protect people from the snares of over policing. And whether or not we realize it anyone of us can fall into the trap of losing our home, car, and property. That is why State Senator Holly Mitchell (D – Los Angeles) has spent the past two years pushing … [Read more...]

Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?

As political candidates and pundits grapple with the legacy of the 1994 crime bill and the era of mass incarceration that has seen millions of African-Americans locked in the nation’s prisons, one defense keeps popping up: that black citizens asked for it. When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black … [Read more...]

The Stain on Young Lives That Never Goes Away

Brandon was 11 years old when Texas authorities charged him for indecent exposure. According to one account, he pulled his pants down; according to another, he urinated in public. Yet the state, in finding Brandon guilty, proclaimed the preteen a “sex offender.”  As it has for hundreds of thousands of others, that label sealed his fate.  After spending most of his teenage years in a juvenile facility, Brandon—whose full name has been omitted to protect his privacy—would still have to register … [Read more...]