April 18, 2021 - Sacramento - Last week, Senate Bill 73, legislation authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that ends mandatory prison and jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, passed the full Senate by a vote of 25-10. It now heads to the Assembly.
California adopted these mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes during the height of the War on Drugs, thus fueling mass incarceration. The War on Drugs has since been widely acknowledged as a racist policy failure—costing huge amounts of money while tearing apart communities and not making us safer. Current mandatory minimum sentencing requirements deny judges discretion to order probation for nonviolent drug offenses, and sends more people to prison and keeps them in jail or prison longer. We must work to provide judges with alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses – particularly in cases where someone is struggling with substance use disorder – instead of defaulting to incarceration.
Not only is mass incarceration bad for public health, it’s also a giant expense for California in a time when we face massive budget cuts and an economic recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown. Mass incarceration costs our state unnecessary billions that should be going to priorities like schools, healthcare, and infrastructure.
As our country reckons with police violence and begins a massive rethinking of our criminal justice system, we must take seriously the ways we can begin to end our system of mass incarceration. The War on Drugs – and its disproportionate criminalization of Black and brown communities – must end, and SB 73 would repeal one of the era’s worst leftover laws.
Currently, if a person has a prior nonviolent drug offense and is convicted of a second offense for drug possession for personal use or similar crime, a judge is prohibited from sentencing them to probation. Judges are also prohibited from sentencing first-time offenders for a number of nonviolent drug charges to probation. SB 73 would give judges sentencing discretion, allowing them to sentence those convicted of these offenses to probation and rehabilitative programs rather than jail time, if appropriate.
Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles) are co-authors of SB 73. It is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance.
“It’s far past time to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Incarcerating people struggling with substance use disorder does not make us safer, and does not make drug use and addiction go away. Drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue, and it’s time to take steps to acknowledge that reality.”
Source: Senator Scott Wiener