Oct. 12, 2017: COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE - California Justice Reforms Give Hope to Youthful Offenders

October 12, 2017

By Nick Cahill

SACRAMENTO (CN) — Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a criminal justice reform package focused on reducing juvenile sentences and recidivism in California, drawing applause from civil rights groups and celebrity activists.

The measures require juvenile suspects younger than 15 to consult with an attorney before waiving their Miranda rights during interrogations; require that all minors serving a life sentence become parole-eligible after 25 years of incarceration; and give judges more discretion over imposing extra jail or prison time.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said the reforms she co-wrote were long overdue.

“Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said in a statement. “If one believes that our children will be tomorrow’s leaders, then we must look through a child-development lens. These bills help provide the appropriate resources and policies to get them there.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said the sweeping bills encourage redemption and accountability and were passed with bipartisan support.

“We cannot afford to throw away or forget our young people, even those who find themselves in the justice system. These bills show that California values the promise and rights of its youth,” Rendon said in a statement.

Lawmakers introduced eight justice reforms in March, calling it the Equity and Justice package. The measures were backed by human rights groups and by Chicago hip-hop artist Common, who held a free concert outside of the state Capitol for 25,000 people. Van Jones, former special adviser to President Barack Obama, also lobbied for the package.

Jones said in a statement Wednesday: “With the stroke of his pen, the governor has boldly ended the barbaric practice of sentencing children to die in prison, given hope of a second chance to thousands of men and women convicted as youth, and helped protect the constitutional rights of children across the state.”

Common also applauded the signing, saying he looks forward to working with Brown on more criminal justice legislation.

“The bills that Gov. Jerry Brown is signing today are great steps toward a more just and fair justice system,” Common said.

Brown also signed bills reducing sentencing enhancements for minor drug offenses, a law sealing arrest records of people not actually convicted of a crime, and Senate Bill 620, which gives judges full discretion over whether to add prison time for people who used a gun in a crime.

During his fourth and final term, Brown has supported rolling back sentencing enhancements — increased punishment for prior criminal convictions —to reduce California’s notorious prison overcrowding. Brown also sponsored a proposition passed by voters in 2016 that increased parole eligibility for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, and programs for inmates to earn credits for good behavior.

His office said the newly signed measures “improve California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems, restore the power of judges to impose criminal sentences and reduce recidivism through increased rehabilitation.”

Other laws signed include Senate Bill 355, which requires only people convicted of crimes to repay courts for public defenders, and Assembly Bill 1448, which gives the parole board authority to consider granting parole to elderly prisoners who have served more than 25 years.

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