Gov. Jerry Brown bucked prosecutors and some other law enforcement groups Wednesday, signing a package of bills, including some that will shorten many prison and jail sentences for both juveniles and adults.

Brown has made rolling back some of California’s harsh sentencing laws one of his signature issues, and several of the bills he signed Wednesday build upon laws and policies he’s pushed over the past seven years. His office described the package as “legislation to improve criminal and juvenile justice systems, restore the power of judges to impose criminal sentences and reduce recidivism through increased rehabilitation.”

Among the measures are two bills that will make both young and elderly prisoners eligible for parole sooner. In a signing message attached to the bill dealing with elderly prisoners, the governor urged lawmakers to go even further next year and broaden the pool of eligible inmates, saying an existing program to parole older prisoners that was imposed by a federal court but had not previously been codified into law shows that there’s no risk to public safety.

“This has been a successful program that saves the state a significant amount of money that would otherwise be spent caring for geriatric prisoners who no longer pose a risk to public safety,” he wrote.

Brown also signed bills that take on so-called sentencing enhancements — years added automatically to the sentences of people with criminal histories who are convicted of a new crime. Senate Bill 180 eliminates extra jail time for people convicted of minor drug crimes; SB 620 will allow judges to decide whether extra jail or prison time should be added on if someone uses a gun in a crime. Previously, judges did not have that discretion.

Sen. Steven Bradford, who wrote the gun bill, said it will help make the criminal justice system more equitable.

“History has shown that there are implicit biases when it comes to charging and sentencing our minority and lower socially economic communities,” he said. “By providing greater options such as comprehensive rehabilitation, that reduces recidivism and judicial discretion, which allows our courts to mete out justice in a more fair and hopefully color blind manner, we will balance the scales of justice and reduce incarceration.”

Sentencing enhancements were the subject of Proposition 57, a ballot measure authored by the governor and passed by voters last year. At the time, he said he would have gone even further limiting those enhancements if he felt it was politically feasible.

Brown also signed several measures that will make it easier for adults and juveniles who are arrested but not charged with crimes to have their records sealed, and another that will let some juveniles convicted of misdemeanors have their records sealed.

Criminal justice reform advocates praised the bills, as did Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell — both Los Angeles Democrats. Mitchell and Lara teamed up to author a number of the measures

Brown also signed a bill that will require youths 15 and younger to consult with a lawyer before they can waive their Miranda rights. He vetoed a similar measure last year.

“Science is clear, young people are different, and as such have the capacity to change and become productive members of society,” Lara said, adding that the laws “will give them that opportunity.”

“Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system,” added Mitchell. “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.”

Critics of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms say they’re contributing to an uptick in crime, especially property crimes such as car break-ins and burglaries. But some public safety researchers say it’s too soon to draw that conclusion, since crime rates have gone up and down since the reforms have been implemented.

Jerry Brown Signs Criminal Justice Reforms, Eases Prison Terms 12 October,2017Marisa Lagos

  • Priscilla Lott

    Let me get this straight: the use of a firearm will no longer result in longer prison terms? The legislature screams and hollers against the NRA, but reduces sentences for gun use. The dems under the dome are sure pinheads.

  • Let me get this straight. They are reducing sentences for criminals, but putting people in jail who use the wrong gender pronoun. I guess they need more jail space available. Only in California.

  • Pepe Lepew

    To whom it may concern :
    RE: Request for Assistance. Case Jorge Armando Covarrubias. A Gross Miscarriage of Justice.
    How Are Efficient American Courts?
    This is a case of injustice and a gross miscarriage of justice of 17 years in the making.
    My brother Jorge Armando Covarrubias, CDCR T23089, was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life under the terms of an unknowing and involuntary plea bargain.
    He was arrested and booked on October 08, 2000 by Assault with a Deadly Weapon California PC 245 (A) (1). Court records clearly shows that during a court hearing at the Downey, California Court, Jorge declined a plea bargain of 12 years while being represented by the Los Angeles Public Defender Craig Purcell and assisted by the court interpreter Lucia Daley. However few days later at the Superior Court of Norwalk California, while being represented by Jon A. Divens, SB 145549, (DISBARRED), and assisted by the court interpreter Cecilia Alcaraz, he supposedly agree to enter into a plea deal of 30 years to life.
    Jorge’s conviction and sentence was obtained by fraud and duress. Because the court’s proceedings prior to the “Plea hearing”, during the “Plea Hearing” and “Sentencing hearing” were inaccurately translated by the court interpreter Alcaraz and for the benefit of my brother.
    Jorge was convicted and sentenced by the Hon. John Torribio, under the terms of an unknowing, unintelligent and involuntary plea agreement for the charges of Second Degree Attempted Murder PC664/187 (5 years) plus the gun enhancement, 12022.53 (d)(25 years too life). Total= 30 years to life.
    Jon A. Divens SB 145549, my brother’s trial counsel just admitted he used my brother’s inability to understand English to improperly advised him to enter into a plea bargain of 30 years to life, for a crime he did NOT commit.
    The Honorable Lillian Vega Jacobs, former District Attorney who prosecuted the case presented an affidavit stating that she observed my brother hesitant and reluctant to enter into a plea of guilty, and that she did not believe that Jorge would accept such plea, because that is not a plea at all.
    We have tried unsuccessfuly for 17 years to prove the truth and we don’t know what else to do. All our atempts to show the truth have been denied by the courts due to the statute of time limitations.
    My brother attests that the court intérpreter Cecilia Alcaraz never explained to him the truth in Spanish about court proceedings nor about such plea bargain. He was unable to understand because at that time he was complete iliterate un writing and speaking english.
    At this time we are trying to obtain a declaration from the Court intérpreter, but we have no concrete answer from her. She is afraid of something.
    In the last conversation I had with her, she informed me that the Los Angeles’ County District Attorney Office told her to avoid problems, “Keep her mouth shut,” and not to answer my emails or phone calls. However, we continúe with our figth to show the honest truth.
    The truth IS that my brother’s language inability was used against him, and his Sixth, Fourteenth and Due Process rights were violated.
    It is well known that all the aforementioned rights are protected by the California’s and United States’ constitutions. Therefore, all citizens and foreign citizens should be protected by both constitutions.
    Jorge told me that all he wants is to show the truth, that he is innocent of the charges, that he did not sign nor agree to accept such plea bargain, and to be deported to México.
    We have proof, tangible evidence to show the truth. Please see the exhibits attached as links.
    My brother’s case:
    People of California vs Jorge Armando Covarrubias. Superior Court of California, for the County of Los Ángeles. Norwalk Court. Case # VA-061911.
    We will really appreciate your assistance. Thank you for your time.
    José Covarrubias


Marisa Lagos

Marisa Lagos reports on state politics for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk, which uses radio, television and online mediums to explore the latest news in California’s Capitol and dig deeper into political influence in the Golden State. Marisa also appears on a weekly podcast analyzing the week’s political news.

Before joining KQED, Marisa worked  at the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times, and, most recently, for nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered San Francisco City Hall and state politics, focusing on the California legislature, governor, budget and criminal justice. In 2011, she won a special award for extensive and excellent work in covering California justice issues from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and also helped lead the Chronicle’s award-winning breaking news coverage of the 2010 San Bruno Pacific Gas & Electric explosion. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Marisa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She and lives in San Francisco with her two sons and husband. Email: Twitter @mlagos Facebook

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