By Anika Khubchandani and Ganga Nair
OAKLAND, CA – Gov Gavin Newsom last week introduced the California County Resentencing Pilot Program, also known as “the Pilot,” into California’s 2021 Budget Act.
The Pilot program provides $18 million dollars across nine California counties to implement Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing (PIR) as a criminal justice reform.
For the People, a national non-profit organization headquartered in Oakland, CA that focuses on empowering prosecutors to revisit and reevaluate excessive prison sentences, helped lawmakers in 2018 to pass CA Assembly Bill 2942, the first ever PIR legislation.
The Pilot program’s $18 million investment takes the organization’s work a step further- helping more incarcerated people reunite with their loved ones and rejoin their communities, while also supplying “cost savings to the state, reinvestment in community resources, economic stimulation through workplace reentry, and more.”
The nine participating counties – Los Angeles, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Riverside, Contra Costa, San Diego, Yolo, Merced, and Humboldt – were deliberately chosen for their diversity. Geography, voter bases, prosecutor leadership, reentry resources, prison population, and incarceration rates vary greatly from county to county in order for a comprehensive evaluation to take place.
The Pilot program, beginning Sept. 1, 2021 and ending Sept. 1, 2024, allocates funds to each county’s District Attorney’s Office, participating Public Defender’s Offices, and community-based organizations.
District Attorney’s officers are to use their funding for outlining the processes used for resentencing, recommending the resentencing of incarcerated people, and supporting all parties involved. The Public Defender’s offices that choose to participate in the Pilot use their funds to conduct the resentencing process, as well as supporting all staff involved.
Community-based organizations must have active connections to current or formerly incarcerated communities to qualify for a county’s Pilot.
Organizations must also specialize in a combination of “supporting and developing pre-release and reentry plans, family reunification services, referrals to post-release wraparound programs, or restorative justice programs.”
To assess the efficacy and impact of the Pilot, an additional $1.35 million dollars of funding will be made available to the RAND Corporation to conduct an evaluation of the program.
RAND will create a template for each District Attorney’s Office to help them record and report vital data such as the criteria used to recognize candidates for PIR, setbacks or struggles in the implementation of the program, and the number of candidates resentenced or released.
RAND will also conduct in-depth interviews with attorneys and support staff from both the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office after analyzing data.
For the People has worked to serve incarcerated people and fight injustice throughout the prison system. Andrew Aradoz, Stephen Smith, and Kennard Love are just some of the people the organization has been able to help under AB 2942.
Aradoz was sentenced to 24 years to life for attempted murder, a crime he committed when he was “an impulsive, easily influenced, misguided, and very sad 14-year-old boy.” Upon incarceration, he aimed to better himself by committing to conflict and anger management programs.
After renouncing his gang affiliation, Aradoz got his GED and is now working towards a college degree. With 11 years of his sentence remaining, he received a second chance after being re-sentenced in Aug. 2020. Today, Aradoz lives with his family in the Sacramento area and is expecting a child with his fiancé.
In 1997, Smith was convicted of first-degree residential burglary while he was suffering from drug addiction. Smith was sentenced to 31 years in prison for the burglary and enhancements associated with the crime.
During his time in prison, he “maintained an exceptional prison record and never received a single Rules Violation Report,” an extremely rare feat considering the harsh realities of prison life.
While incarcerated, Smith committed himself to excel in his substance abuse programming and recognized that rejoining society was only possible if he managed to “remain clean and sober” and take his “recovery very, very seriously.”
He was resentenced in June 2020 and now lives near his loved ones in Tucson, Arizona and is over two decades sober.
Love was convicted of multiple attempted robberies when he was 22 years old. Conflicted about how to channel his emotions and wanting to prove his manhood, Love went down a path of crime that ended in a 28-year prison sentence. While in prison, Love was forced to reflect on his reality, and to make changes.
The words “success after prison begins in prison” motivated him as he “spent nearly every day of the last 13 years working on himself, making amends, and confronting his childhood issues.”
This caught the attention of the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office, who worked with community organization Silicon Valley De-Bug, and helped Love to be released early from prison on Dec. 11, 2020. Love, now “poised to contribute incredibly to his community,” was set free. He currently pursues computer programming and spends his time surfing with his nephew.
For the People Founder and Executive Director, Hilary Blout, said California is “at the forefront of criminal justice reform” once again.
She also said she is excited for the expansion of For the People’s work and to “safely bring more people home from prison” so that there can be many more positive stories like Andrew Aradoz, Stephen Smith, and Kennard Love.