Release: Senator Kamlager’s Landmark Legislation Around Criminal Justice Reform, AB 333 and AB 124, Signed Into Law

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, two key bills of Senator Sydney Kamlager’s criminal justice legislation, AB 333: Gang Enhancements and AB 124: Justice for Survivors were signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. 

“It’s long been shown that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to sentencing does little to improve recidivism rates and improve public safety,” said Senator Kamlager. “It is time our laws reflect the data we have about how and why people enter the system, and how best to keep them from re-entering.”

AB 333: Gang Enhancements, known as the “STEP Forward Act”, has a broad coalition of support, driven to revise racist sentencing laws. The bill, now law, takes the first step towards addressing the pain caused by gang enhancements.

“We’re re-injecting due process back into the criminal legal system--where it should’ve been all along,” continued Senator Kamlager. “I’m thrilled to see Governor Newsom sign AB 333 into law. Gang enhancements have long been used against people of color far more frequently than their white counterparts. With today’s signing, we’re making progress on our promise to root out discrimination where we see it.”   

Currently, gang enhancement statutes have vague definitions, weak standards of proof, and are perhaps the most racially discriminatory part of the criminal justice system: 92% of people with gang enhancements in California are people of color. 

“People should not be criminalized because of the neighborhoods they live in, families they were born into, or other factors outside their control,” said a spokesperson for NextGen Policy, a co-sponsor of the bill. “And they shouldn’t lose an additional 5, 10, 20 or more years of their liberty without adequate proof or due process. This bill provides long overdue, commonsense reforms to curb the rampant and devastating application of gang enhancements to people of color from overpoliced and under-resourced communities. We are excited to see it signed into law.” 

As shared by Senator Kamlager on the Senate Floor, the bill reduces the list of crimes under which use of the current charge alone creates proof of a “pattern” of criminal gang activity, and separates gang allegations from underlying charges at trial.

“Gang enhancements exacerbate racial inequities in our criminal legal system,” added a spokesperson from Anti-Recidivism Coalition, who also co-sponsored AB 333. “They target people of color and people in low-income neighborhoods -- criminalizing relationships within those communities. In fact, research shows that 92% of people who receive gang enhancements are people of color. We’re relieved that California is taking steps to address this area of deep racism.” 

AB 333 was based on a recommendation from the newly formed Committee on Revision of the Penal Code. Michael Romano, Chair of the Committee, said “I am deeply grateful to Senator Kamlager for authoring and Governor Newsom for signing AB 333. The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code is committed to improving public safety for all Californians while reducing unnecessary incarceration and inequity in the criminal legal system. AB 333 is an important step towards those goals.”

Another key component of Senator Kamlager’s criminal justice legislation, AB 124: Justice for Survivors, was also signed into law. The bill would support survivors of violence including human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence by providing trauma-informed sentencing relief and trial advocacy considerations.

“AB 124 is survivor-centered. It seeks to re-insert flexibility, dignity, and reality into the decision-making processes to ensure that courts weigh the full context of a victim’s experiences and traumas,” said Senator Kamlager.

Senator Kamlager previously shared in committee how nearly 60% of female state prisoners nationwide and as many as 94% of certain female prison populations experienced physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated. AB 124: Justice for Survivors, a California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC) priority, seeks to support survivors by requiring a holistic, trauma-informed approach in sentencing. 

“Passing AB 124 has brought us one step closer to achieving justice for survivors in California,” said Amika Mota, Policy Director, Young Women's Freedom Center. “But the real power of AB 124 lies in sharing with the world the complex narrative that surrounds survivors, and the criminalization of girls, women, and trans and gender non-conforming folks. We hope the supporters of this bill will continue to fight for all survivors in the years to come.”

“Survivors who are predominantly Black, brown, and indigenous women, queer, and trans people are often arrested and punished as a result of their exploitation and abuse,” added Jasmine Amons, Senior Program & Policy Coordinator, National Center for Youth Law. “The passage of AB 124 represents long overdue criminal justice reform that allows courts to meaningfully consider the effects of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking on survivors and respond accordingly.”

"We applaud Governor Newsom for signing AB 124 into law, creating real opportunities to divert survivors from suffering the additional abuse of criminalization,” noted Colby Lenz, Co-founder, Survived & Punished. “We look forward to partnering with the Governor to ensure survivors' needs are met by robust community-based services across California, not criminalization."

“Passing and signing AB 124 Justice for Survivors Act into law is a first step in creating a meaningful and holistic path for criminalized survivors,” noted Aminah Elster, Campaign & Policy Coordinator, California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). “With much work still to be done, CCWP is committed to seeing that all survivors have access to considerations that allow for equity and healing instead of incarceration and punishment for acts of survival.”

"Free to Thrive is thrilled that AB 124 was signed into law,” added Jamie Beck, President & Managing Attorney, Free to Thrive. “This bill will help so many survivors get the justice they deserve by helping the criminal justice system understand that they are victims, not criminals."

AB 333 and AB 124 will take effect on January 1, 2022.

To set up an interview with Senator Kamlager, please contact Elizabeth Wells elizabeth.wells@sen.ca.gov

To set up an interview with any of the AB 333 cosponsors, please contact Viv Henry vhenry@antirecidivism.org

To set up an interview with any of the AB 124 cosponsors, please contact Aminah Elster, aminahsrcolbert@gmail.com 

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AB 333 is co-sponsored by The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, NextGen, The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Silicon Valley DeBug, Pillars of the Community, and Young Women’s Freedom Center 

AB 124 is co-sponsored by Black Futures Lab Public Policy Institute, The California Coalition of Women Prisoners, Free to Thrive, National Center for Youth Law, Survived and Punished, University of Southern California Gould School of Law Post-Conviction Justice Project, and Young Women’s Freedom Center