« "Expedient Imprisonment: How Federal Supervised Release Sentences Violate the Constitution" | Main | Intriguing report on intriguing "equitable criminal sentencing technology" being formally adopted in Florida county »

October 4, 2022

Recapping lots of (little?) new criminal justice reforms in California

Late last week, California Gavin Newsom had a deadline to sign or veto a bunch of criminal justice reform bills.  This AP piece, headlined "Newsom has mixed verdict on California criminal justice laws," reports on some of the bill and choices made by Gov. Newsom:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a mixed verdict on more than three dozen criminal justice laws before his bill-signing deadline Friday, approving measures to seal criminal records and free dying inmates but denying bids to restrict solitary confinement and boost inmates’ wages.

Starting in July, one new law will give California what proponents call the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records, though it excludes sex offenders. It will seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years, as well as records of arrests that don’t bring convictions, while former prison inmates convicted of serious felonies will be able to ask a judge to seal their records.

Backers estimate that 70 million Americans and 8 million Californians are hindered by old criminal convictions or records. They estimated the law could give more than a million Californians better access to jobs, housing and education. Newsom also approved related measures, one allowing record sealing and expungement even if former offenders still owe restitution and other court debt, and another making it easier to apply for certificates of rehabilitation....

Newsom also relaxed standards to allow more ill and dying inmates to be released from state prisons. The new law will allow inmates to be freed if they are permanently medically incapacitated or have a serious and advanced illness “with an end-of-life trajectory,” the standard used by the federal prison system. “It reduces incarceration costs, but more importantly, ensures there is a more humane and effective relief process for all people in California’s state prisons,” said Claudia Gonzalez of Root & Rebound, one of the reform groups that sought the measure....

He also expanded a 2020 law allowing suspects to allege they were harmed by racial bias in their criminal charges, convictions or sentences. The earlier law was limited to cases after Jan. 1, 2021. But this measure extends the safeguards to prior convictions.

Newsom, a Democrat who says he supports second chances and reducing incarceration, has had a mixed record on criminal justice bills. He has backed many reform efforts but in years past also vetoed other legislation he felt went too far or duplicated existing efforts. This year, he blocked a bill that would have made California the latest state to restrict segregated confinement in prisons and jails, as well as for the first time adding immigration detention facilities....

Newsom also vetoed one bill that would have given the state prison system five years to marginally boost the wages of inmates who usually earn just dollars a day, and a second bill that would have increased the “gate money” inmates are given upon their release from the current $200 to $1,300. The bills had survived even as lawmakers this year rejected a constitutional change that might have required much more compensation for inmate workers.

From another accounting, Daniel Nichanian has this Twitter thread on thread on "13 of the biggest [bills from California] and why they matter." Among the bills highlighted in that thread: "Gavin Newsom SIGNED a bill to make phone calls free from prison" and "Newsom SIGNED a bill that will 'vacate the death sentences of people who have become permanently incompetent'" and "Newsom SIGNED a bill to decriminalize jaywalking in California." 

Though I am inclined to call the record sealing bill "big" because of the number of people and families potentially impacted, the title of this post conveys my general sense that a lot of these reforms are fairly little.  But little does not mean unimportant, and it will be interesting to see if any of these reforms end up having major crime and punishment echoes.

October 4, 2022 at 12:29 PM | Permalink


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that extending RJA to existing death sentences will produce lots of litigation

Posted by: John | Oct 4, 2022 4:13:14 PM

It did in North Carolina, so I think that's a good prediction John.

Posted by: Doug B | Oct 4, 2022 10:30:18 PM

"the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records, though it EXCLUDES sex offenders".

Why exclude sex offenders - provided their offense was a 'first time' non-violent and/or non-contact offense??? (Examples: possession of illegal images; Romeo/Juliet violations; comparatively incidental, minor or technical offenses)

Would such seemingly unjustified discrimination be in violation of 14th Amendment/equal protections?

There are literally thousands of citizens who fall into this cohort, all who would benefit greatly from such meaningful reliefs. However, they are routinely excluded from relief - evidently 'just because we don't like them'. The State should be challenged on this point. These citizens have paid their debt to society, and then some.

Those effectively banished from society due to their "sex offender" label are the MOST in need of support and would benefit the MOST therefrom. Such reliefs would at minimum afford them opportunities to gain stability in personal relationships, social support, meaningful employment and stable housing. They recover their self-respect, gain hope, and opportunity to rebuild their lives. Every expert in this area have found that these are the components necessary for lasting change and recovery, and most importantly, decreases recidivism. (Interestingly, statistics show that 'first time' non-violent and non-contact offenders are the least likely of all criminal cohorts to re-offend/recidivate, with the exclusion of those convicted of murder).

Re-offending equates to more victims (including minors). Don't we care about that? Wouldn't we ALL benefit with relief finally being extended to these citizens?

Posted by: SG | Oct 5, 2022 6:35:43 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB