Bill Seeks to End Sentencing Enhancement


Mass Incarceration

Supporters of SB 1392, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell, say, “It’s an absurd policy to subject every person with a prior felony to an additional year in jail or prison for every prior felony.  The effect of applying this wholesale to minor crimes and serious felonies is only to exacerbate over-crowding in local jails and state prisons.”

Yesterday, Senator Mitchell said on the Senate floor, “California has some of the most severe sentencing enhancements in the nation.. We know that longer sentences do not deter crime.”

The bill is currently three votes from getting out of the Senate, and one of the holdouts has been Senator Bill Dodd.

According to a study from the PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) last December, the one-year enhancement had been applied 16,000 times to people in state prison.  Supporters of the legislation argue that the effect is hundreds of million in spending, up to one billion each year, for a policy with no proven positive effect.

The LA Times in an editorial a few days ago pointed out that it was first-term Governor Jerry Brown who helped overpack California’s prisons when he signed into law the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act in 1976.  Now Governor Brown and the legislature have been attempting “to make amends for the prison growth and over-incarceration that they helped to set in motion.”

The Times notes: “When Brown returned from the political wilderness and was elected state attorney general in 2006, he faced an overflowing prison system he had helped to create: Instead of 10 prisons, California had 33, and its inmate population had grown by 900%.

“In 2016, he presented and voters adopted Proposition 57, which brought back much of the former parole system and with it the incentive for inmates to participate in programs that will make them better bets to return safely to their neighborhoods. It also brought back some of the better aspects of indeterminate sentencing.

“But all those enhancements remain in place, even in the absence of evidence that they protect the public from repeat offenders. Some make sense. But some don’t, including the requirement that new felony convictions carry an additional year for each jail term already served for a previous felony. SB 1392 would properly eliminate it.”

This bill “would eliminate a one-year enhancement that’s currently tacked on to nonviolent felony convictions for every previous jail or prison term the defendant has served.”

The Times argues, “If there was evidence that the extra prison or jail time deterred repeat offenders, the enhancements might make some sense. But years of experience show instead that many repeat offenders are driven by untreated mental illness or addiction. Treating those problems, rather than expanding prisons and jails to hold more offenders longer, should be the priority.”

DAs may say the one-year enhancement is not a big deal.  But supporters of the bill argue that “it is a very big deal, a very expensive deal to families that have to bear the costs of having an incarcerated loved one. And because of its wholesale application it’s a very big deal for taxpayers.”

They point out: “It’s applied to the lowest level offenses, like drug sale or car break in, and to serious felonies like manslaughter, alike. There is no rationale for that. We have base sentences and enhancements that are intended to address a specific crime — this is just a very bad idea — giving an extra year to every charge, petty and major.”

The LA Times argues: “Treatment, rather than expanding prisons and jails to hold more offenders longer, should be the priority.”

Supporters of the bill call this double jeopardy – being punished twice for the same mistake.  “Imagine losing a year’s worth of time with your family for a mistake you’ve already been punished for,” they say.  “This double jeopardy injustice has separated thousands of children from their parents.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Bill Seeks to End Sentencing Enhancement”

  1. Jim Hoch

    “We know that longer sentences do not deter crime” So if people who commit repeated crimes are in prison than regular people will commit crimes to keep the rate constant? It’s an interesting “ecology of crime” theory that people will fill a void. Any studies on this?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s not deterrence. Deterrence is the threat of punishment convincing someone to not commit a crime. Studies have shown that shorter sentences with greater certainty offer more deterrence than longer sentences. What you are describing is incapacitation. Incapacitation removes people from being able to commit crimes, the problem with longer sentences is you end up incapacitating most people past the point where statistically they are likely to commit further crimes. In fact, studies show that three strikes fails in part because it puts people in life at the very time they are most likely to stop committing crimes.

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