‘War on Drugs Failed’ Tweets Lawmaker; Introduces State Legislation to Untie Hands of Judges in Drug Sentencing

By Dalia Bautista Rodriguez

SACRAMENTO – Incarceration for simple drug possession could soon end – or at least be minimized – under legislation introduced here at the State Capitol by State Senator Scott Wiener to repeal mandatory minimums that have been in place since the 1980s during the so-called “War on Drugs.”

Senate Bill 73 will help end jail sentences for drug possession in California and end mass incarceration. focusing on different alternatives to deal with these issues, said Wiener.

“The War on Drugs failed. Let’s own that failure & move forward. We introduced new legislation to end mandatory prison time for drug possession, which fuels mass incarceration. Judges will now have discretion to instead sentence to probation or suspended sentence,” tweeted Wiener.

Under SB 73, judges could sentence nonviolent drug offenders to probation and rehabilitative programs. Currently first-time offenders for a number of nonviolent drug charges or second-time offenders convicted of drug possession for personal use are not sentenced to probation, said the senator.

During the 1980s, California decided that the solution to addiction is to put people in prison. Their solution has shown to be a failure and has not reduced addiction but has made things worse, said SB 73 supporters, who add that minimum sentences tie the hands of judges and their only solution is to send people to prison.

Wiener’s office said measures enacted in that era have been “widely acknowledged as a racist policy failure” which has led to mass incarceration disproportionately impacting communities of color.

“We are living with the consequences of bad, racist policies enacted in the 1970s and 80s, which disproportionately criminalize and harm Black and brown communities,” Wiener said in a statement. “Our drug laws are a stain on California, and we must stop hurting communities and wasting valuable resources jailing people who have committed nonviolent drug offenses.”

SB 73 supporters note that people are so afraid of these long term sentences of 10 years or so they would rather plead guilty to three or four years, even if they are not guilty.

“When it comes to sentencing, California should not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” said retired Judge Harlan Grossman. California’s method of sentencing the use or possession of drugs is not meant for everyone, especially those who suffer from addiction, he said.

Supporters claim that mass incarceration only takes money away from things that do address addiction and it takes a toll on public health. California already faces a major budget downturn, they say, because of COVID-19 and the money going towards mass incarceration should be used to fund education or infrastructure.

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, said, “Mandatory minimums disproportionately affect people of color. Communities of color are the ones being dismantled by these policies and this can be seen by the way the criminal justice system handled the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlanger added, “…racist policies have flooded our state’s prisons with non-violent offenders. California’s policies work against communities of color and it can be said it impacts them the most. Society has been operating under conditions that do not work or succeed and has impacted communities of color the most.”

Judges also do not have the ability to dictate a first-time offender to probation if they have multiple counts of drug possession on them. Senate Bill 73 will allow judges to sentence these offenders to programs that will help them or probation if applicable.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju noted that this bill brings the fundamental principle that every case is unique and every case matters and that people evolve, and that these main factors should help contribute to the sentencing.

This is also not the first time this type of bill has been introduced – as many as four measures have been introduced previously, said the lawmaker’s office, noting that there is a stronger alliance of supporters this time.

COVID-19 plays a factor in the passing of the SB 73, said supporters, because it helps communities reimagine how the criminal system looks like from the inside and that their health is at risk.

Los Angeles District Attorney, George Gascon, argued, “COVID-19 renders mass incarceration not just as a moral and economic crisis, but a public health crisis as well.”

Dalia Bautista Rodriguez is a third year- transfer at UC Davis and majoring in Community & Regional Development. She is originally from Guadalupe, CA.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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