Governor Brown Wants to Overhaul California’s Crime Laws

Perhaps you remember a day when parole boards were granted permission to release prisoners from confinement. When a person was sentenced to prison, they had hopes of early released based on their behavior in the facility and their potential for rehabilitation. California changed that thirty years ago. In legislation signed by Governor Brown, inmates were given set sentences and expected to serve them in their entirety.

But why did Governor Brown sign laws that would prevent people from being released from a system that was originally meant to rehabilitate and return them to society? Because it was thought at the time, and probably rightfully so, that it was a system that was not fair to minority inmates. parole boards were more likely to look favorably upon those in the majority while denying freedom to others.

What has resulted in the changes is a clogged system of prisons where people sit for years because they are sentenced to set terms. Governor Brown believes that something needs to be changed.

Last week, the governor spoke to a forum of federal judges, stating that California’s criminal laws have gone too far. He also offered that inmate behavior should play a role in the length of a sentence. What the governor would like to see is a return to a parole board with greater latitude in determining whether or not a prisoner was ready for release.

Governor Brown said, in part, “Now the whole system is arbitrary. Instead of disadvantaging a small minority,we now cover the whole system…In this process we have 5,000 criminal provisions and there are 400 enhancements.”

It may be a long road to travel before such changes take place. Politicians are often concerned with being accused of being soft on crime or jeopardizing public safety. Rather than worrying about being fair to people who are languishing in prison under the thumb of unfair sentencing laws, legislators worry that they will be harming their political careers.

Whether laws are revamped in the future will depend on many factors, not the least of which is the bravery of politicians to stand up for what is right.

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