Governor Newsom Signs Bill to Retroactively Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Governor Newsom Signs Bill to Retroactively Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements

Sacramento – Californians incarcerated due to criminal penalty enhancements that are no longer in state law may soon have those enhancements retroactively removed from their record. Governor Newsom’s signature of Senate Bill 483 last week, authored by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica), applies the repeal of these demonstrably ineffective enhancements to people currently in jails and prisons, subject to court review and approval. As California’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code argues, “it is difficult to justify a sentence that is longer than someone else’s merely because it was imposed at a slightly different date.”

Before 2018, people convicted of certain controlled substance offenses were automatically sentenced to an additional three years’ incarceration for each prior conviction for a similar offense. Before 2020, an additional one-year term of imprisonment was imposed on people convicted of any felony for each prior felony for which they were incarcerated. SB 180 (Chapter 677, Statutes of 2017) and SB 136 (Chapter 590, Statutes of 2019), respectively, repealed these automatic sentencing enhancements on a prospective basis.

However, people currently in California jails and prisons were still subject to the mandatory sentencing enhancements that SB 180 and SB 136 repealed. Of those in prison because of enhancements, three-fourths are people of color. 

Extensive research, including a massive 2014 report by the National Academies of Science, has found that sentencing enhancements are ineffective at protecting public safety, but are proven to harm children, families and communities, particular Black and Latino communities that suffer much high rates of arrest and incarceration. 

“Automatic sentencing enhancements are ineffective use of taxpayer dollars and disproportionately harm communities of color,” said Senator Ben Allen, (D - Santa Monica). “SB 483 strengthens California’s essential principles of equal treatment and integrity in the criminal justice system.”

“California's sentence enhancement schemes are not about safety. They stretch from a failed tough on crime policy, and a legacy of racism and classism to keep families trapped behind needless years of separation,” said Derick Morgan, Policy Associate, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights "The Legislature was right before to repeal these enhancements, and by signing Senator Allen's RISE Act, Governor Newsom is helping us turn the page to a more just and inclusive California. The RISE Act allows families left behind by our laws to be restored.”

“It is wonderful to see California take steps to reverse the perpetual harm of “get tough on crime” policies like sentence enhancements. Enhancements are racist and they tear families apart,” says Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “CURB is proud to have worked on repealing enhancements for prior drug convictions and prior felonies in previous years with Senators Mitchell and Weiner. We are happy to have worked with Senator Allen this year on a bill that will implement those powerful reforms retroactively.”

"Sentence enhancements, have been a problematic component of our legal system that disproportionately impact Black, Brown and immigrant communities and further tear our families apart. CHIRLA has been proud to work with partners across the state to chip away at the antiquated notion that enhancements are a necessary tool, instead of what they truly are--costly and drivers of mass incarceration,” said Rita Medina, Deputy Director of, CHIRLA, "The RISE Act allows us to move California forward while providing some relief for those who have been impacted. "  

"We are thrilled that the Governor signed SB 483 into law!  DPA is proud to work in undoing the remnants of the racist policies of the 90’s and the War on Drugs’ lock them up strategies,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, State Director of Drug Policy Alliance. "Instead, California sends a clear message that sentence enhancements do not increase public safety, and serve to tear families apart.  We are proud of our work to right this wrong with countless organizations and legislative champions such as Mitchell, Wiener and Allen."

SB 483 was supported by sentencing reform, social justice, and civil rights advocates. The law will go into effect January 1, 2022.

 

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Ben Allen represents the 26th State Senate District, which consists of the Hollywood, Westside, and South Bay communities of Los Angeles County. He chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and the Joint Committee on the Arts.