California Progresses By Approving Major Criminal Justice Bills

By Jacqueline Nguyen

SACRAMENTO— On Friday, Sept. 10, after months of debating bills related to law enforcement and prisons, California State Legislature has closed out its legislative session for 2021, passing several important criminal justice bills through both chambers while putting on hold a few dozen more for the next session.

This year’s session was relatively quiet and peaceful compared to the previous years where someone had hurled a blood-filled menstrual cup at the lawmakers and where chaos had brewed as tech issues were prominent in the midst of the quarantining phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Before bills are turned into laws, they start as one of the thousands of bills introduced to the state legislature. Each one must be passed by the State Senate followed by the State Assembly before it’s put on the governor’s desk to be signed and made an official law. However, along the way, it’ll go through many different committees where the bill will be debated and tweaked.

By September 10, all bills had to be passed through both chambers, the Senate and Assembly, before Governor Newsom could sit down and sign them. 

Here is a breakdown of a few notable criminal justice bills that have been recently passed through both chambers:

SB 2: Police Decertification Bill

This bill grants California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standard and Training the power and right to decertify an officer if convicted of crimes or misconduct. In cases where an officer is convicted of wrongful death, they will be stripped of their immunity protections which has protected them from civil lawsuits. 

However, the bill was tweaked so that of the 12 members of the Commission on Peace Officer Standard and Training, 10 of them are either current or former officers or prosecutors. Thus, they may not decertify many officers, given their connection to law enforcement agencies.

Following the wake of George Floyd’s wrongful death and the resurgence of racial justice protests for both the Black and Asian American communities, it’s a step in the right direction towards a more just system and will help restore the communities’ faith in law enforcement. 

Governor Newsom signed the bill on Sept 30.

SB 16: Release of Police Records

This bill ensures that all officers’ records are made readily available for the public. In doing so, it will make certain that there will be more transparency between law enforcement and the people to ensure that morals, ethics, and laws are put before personal vendettas and political gains

Governor Newsom gave his stamp of approval on Thursday, Sept. 30.

AB 118: CRISES ACT — Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems 

AB 118 is a pilot program in a few select cities and counties to shift emergency response calls from law enforcement intervention to community-based organizations that are concerned in the situation’s space, whether that be mental health, substance abuse, community violence, domestic violence, or even natural disasters. 

It’s a big step forward, considering that the government is now reflecting that in certain situations, there is a far greater impact and is more cost-efficient to put those in need of help in contact with community-based organizations that have a deeper understanding of the situation. 

This bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

AB 490: Ban Police Use of Chokeholds

Law enforcement officers are now banned from using a vascular neck restraint or choke hold of any kind that compresses a person’s airway and reduces their ability to breathe adequately. 

Following the wrongful death of George Floyd, whose airway was suffocated by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee, Governor Newsom declared this officer’s authorized misconduct as illegal in California, passing the bill on Thursday, Sept. 30.

AB 503: Puts an End to Youth Endless Probation

Once a youth criminal has been released from juvenile probation, they’re often readmitted into youth detention centers for technical violations of their probation terms, rather than for committing another crime. 

As a result, they’re constantly in and out of juvie on minor violations, making it difficult for them to escape the institution and better their life. SB 503 aims to put youth criminals under probation for six-month increments with a hearing every six months to hopefully end their once seemingly endless probation.

AB 503 is awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature of approval.

SB 483: Removal of Prison Sentence Enhancements

Sentencing enhancements are policies that mandate convicted people of criminal offenses while engaging in generally non-criminalized actions to have longer sentences than those who were convicted of similar criminal offenses without the non-criminalized actions. 

Thus, SB 483 aims to allow defendants a chance to reexamine their case and have their sentence reduced if they are serving enhancement time, and have already served the time for the actual criminal offense. 

It is currently waiting for Governor Newsom’s signature. 

It is also important to note that ACA 3 addresses how those incarcerated are subject to prison labor as it is a source of profit for both the government and corporations, rather than as a means of punishment. It aims to remove a clause in the California Constitution that allows indentured servitude. While it passed in the Senate, it was shut down by the Assembly for this session, and hopefully will make an appearance again in 2022.

It’s now time to wait and see how these new bills will be implemented into our state system as well as what other types of new criminal justice reform bills will be created by the start of the 2022 session.

About The Author

Jacqueline Nguyen is a writer for The Vanguard at Berkeley's prison reform desk. She is a second-year cognitive student at UC Berkeley and is originally from Huntington Beach, CA.

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