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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown Rejects Drug Sentencing Reform Which Would Have Helped With Prison Crowding

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Still a possible prison term
  • Still a possible prison term

California just can't shake its prison problem. The state has been on notice to reduce crowding in stuffed state prisons for years. And now an end-of-the-year deadline to reduce its prison population by thousands of inmates is looming since the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene on this issue.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan is to send the prisoners who can't be housed in county jails out of state. In other words, continue warehousing people somewhere else.

In California, drug possession is an automatic felony for most drugs. But that's not the case in 13 other states. Keeping the 4,000 people who are doing time in prisons out of felony trouble would be a good start to reducing crowding -- but it's not one Brown is interested in.

A bill that would give prosecutors the choice of lesser charges for drugs passed both houses of the state Legislature, only to receive Brown's veto over the weekend. The reasoning: more reform is needed before a small amount of reform can happen.

Currently, prosecutors have no choice but to charge many drug crimes as felonies rather than less-serious misdemeanors. Possession of many hard drugs -- including street-addict currency like crack and crank -- is an automatic felony.

A bill authored by San Francisco's own state Sen. Mark Leno would have given prosecutors the option to charge crack possession as a misdemeanor. That reform had the support of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, but not the state District Attorney Association and other powerful law enforcement lobby groups.

As a result, Brown vetoed the bill, saying that a committee charged with sentencing reform would do the job.

That left Leno scratching his head.

"This bill was a mild attempt at sentencing reform," he said Monday, adding that he doubts the three-judge panel in charge of making sure Brown reduces prison crowding is happy. "This doesn't bode well for the governor's support of anything much more significant."

Possession for sale, of course, remains a felony, meaning that an attempt to move that $10 dime sack of weed still carries with it the risk of a lifetime of trouble.

Brown's refusal to give district attorneys more authority comes at a time when Attorney General Eric Holder is leading a call for reform in sentencing practices. Leno said he'll try again with the bill in the next session.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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