State Senate Debates Bill That Would Allow Judges to Consider Race In the Determination of Prison Sentences

A new bill under consideration by California legislators would allow judges to consider race in determining how long an offenders prison sentence should be. 

      The bill, California Assembly Bill 852, would state the intent of the Legislature to rectify the racial bias that has historically permeated our criminal justice system as documented by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

      The bill would add a section to the California Penal Code requiring courts, whenever they have discretion to determine a sentence, to consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations.

      Introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the bill which grew out of recommendations by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans and is sparking a great deal of controversy given its implications on California’s criminal justice system and the potential for wider ranging debates.

      In addition to the consideration of race in sentencing, the Task Force is recommending compensation for over-policing in Black communities, excessive drug arrests, and disproportionate prison sentences along with ending cash bail and reducing the prosecution of low-level crimes.

      “I have, for the better part of two years, stated that reparations is more than just a check – it is about removing institutional barriers in the form of laws that have and continue to marginalize Black communities in California,” Jones-Sawyer said in May.

      Those in opposition say that race-based sentencing undermines the core principles of fairness and equality. 

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