By Anika Khubchandani
SACRAMENTO – CA Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed a measure designed to reduce the number of people in prison by giving first-time low level offenders a second chance and older prisoners a bit of a break.
AB 3234, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will provide judges with discretion to put first-time misdemeanor offenders in a diversion program and also amends the Elderly Parole Program.
Since the spread of COVID-19 remains a major concern throughout California prisons, the passage of AB 3234 authorizes the state to “ease overcrowding, while also expanding opportunities for second chances without increased risk to public safety,” said Ting.
The lawmaker noted that ever since the brutal police killing of George Floyd, “fairness of [America’s] criminal justice system is front and center,” causing more and more institutions across the United States to take the time to reflect on how their actions and policies have contributed to systemic racism and increased racial disparities. Gavin Newsom’s signature on this bill represents yet “another step toward criminal justice reform.”
The bill stems from an already “successful pilot program in Los Angeles County,” said Ting, adding the LA measure has decreased “the number of jury trials by more than 2,000 over a two-year period” and “saves the courts $12,000 per day, per trial.”
By placing first-time offenders of low-level crimes in diversion programs, the recidivism rate will decrease substantially, said Ting, noting the bill will now allow people who never reoffend to be able to maintain a clean record, permitting them to successfully apply for jobs and housing.
Another way AB 3234 will alleviate prison overcrowding is by improving the Elderly Parole Program.
Currently, Ting said, the “geriatric population can cost California up to $300,000 per year, per person in medical costs.” But, by lowering the age and minimum sentence served requirements to 50 and 20 years from 60 and 25 years, more inmates will be eligible for parole hearings. Since certain grave convictions are automatically excluded from this change in legislation, California’s public safety risk will not increase, but the state will be able to save millions of dollars.
Jail and criminal justice reform lawmaker Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) called the enactment of AB 3234 “another milestone in criminal justice reform.”
The option of a diversion program instead of jail time for first-time violators of minor offenses in addition to improvements in the Elderly Parole Program will give more people in the prison system the opportunity to “return to society and live productive lives,” she said.
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