Pubdate: Sat, 10 Oct 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat


It's a rare day when Democrats and Republicans stand shoulder to 
shoulder in Washington, celebrating a bipartisan agreement on, well, 
just about anything.

Has that ever been clearer than this week when intra-party warfare 
overshadowed partisan divisions in the House?

But on Oct. 1, in the Senate, compromise and bipartisanship took 
center stage. And the subject of this rare agreement - criminal 
justice reform - is as substantive as the political bedfellows are surprising.

After decades of upping the ante with ever-harsher criminal 
penalties, liberal and conservative senators endorsed a proposal to 
reduce mandatory-minimum sentences and to restore discretion for 
federal judges.

The measure also allows inmates to shorten their sentences by 
completing educational or rehabilitative programs and affords an 
opportunity to seal or expunge juvenile records that otherwise might 
close doors for a lifetime.

"For the first time, we are cutting back many of the most severe 
mandatory minimums so they apply more fairly," said Sen. Charles 
Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. 
"We are bringing real reform to our prisons that give low-risk 
inmates the chance to return to society earlier, with better prospects."

This isn't a done deal, but the ripple effects could include reunited 
families, less recidivism and savings for taxpayers who foot the bill 
for the federal prison system.

Gov. Jerry Brown is looking for a similar review of California's 
criminal penalties.

As usual, many of the bills sent to the governor at the end of the 
2015 legislative session created new offenses or increased penalties 
for existing crimes. Brown rejected nine of those bills last weekend 
with a single veto message urging legislators to rethink the state's 
approach to crime and punishment.

"Over the last several decades, California's criminal code has grown 
to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every 
conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our 
jail and prison populations have exploded," Brown wrote. "Before we 
keep going down this road, I think we should pause and reflect on how 
our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just 
and more cost-effective."

California shifted thousands of inmates to county jails to settle a 
federal lawsuit involving crowding and medical care, and voters 
reclassified some offenses as misdemeanors.

The results have been mixed, according a report this month from the 
Public Policy Institute of California. It found no increase in 
violent crime or recidivism rates but said corrections spending has 
continued to rise, topping $10 billion in the current fiscal year.

Some of the bills Brown vetoed were popular. We editorialized in 
favor of Senate Bill 168, which would prohibit unauthorized drone 
flights above firefighting operations.

Legislators will have little, if any, difficulty passing many more 
crime bills, including another version of the drone bill. Where they 
have failed, time and again, is in stepping back and seeing the big 
picture, whether it involves crime or other issues.

Brown has invited them to do so, and he must take an active role, 
too. It isn't often that we suggest state leaders look to Washington 
for inspiration. But here's one time that they should.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom