Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Calls on California Legislature to Dismantle Cruel, Ineffective Sentence Enhancement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 14, 2019

Press Contact: Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center, ashley@ellabakercenter.org, 510-417-6071

Daisy Vieyra, ACLU, dvieyra@acluca.org, 916-824-3266

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Calls on California Legislature to Dismantle Cruel, Ineffective Sentence Enhancement

SB 136 repeals a commonly used and expensive one-year sentence enhancement that adds additional years to someone’s sentence, lengthening family separations

SACRAMENTO – Today, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights rallied at the State Capitol to call on California lawmakers to pass SB 136: The RISE Act. Introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SB 136 will repeal a cruel, expensive, and ineffective sentence enhancement that adds an extra year to an individual’s base sentence for each prior prison or felony jail term they already served. 

"Not only are sentence enhancements ineffective, expensive, and racist but they tear families apart. This means families struggle with another year of overwhelming debt from visitation and telephone fees, and diminished revenue from the imprisonment of a loved one. The longer the sentence, the more severe these problems," said Emily Harris of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "Today, we call on the California Legislature to help reunite families by passing SB 136."

Advocates, formerly incarcerated Californians, and allies joined the Ella Baker Center at the steps of the Capitol where the organization set up an art installation depicting the many family milestones people missed during just one year of incarceration, including the birth of their first child, graduations, holidays, and even deaths in their families.

The art display quoted James Vick, a SB 136 supporter who is currently incarcerated, as saying, “One year in this awful place can easily become a lifetime of misery, heartache, loneliness, pain, and uncertainty – because someone felt that a one-year enhancement was ‘only a year.’”

Currently, if an individual is convicted and served time in jail or prison for a prior felony, a one-year enhancement can be added to their sentence, often stacking up on top of other enhancements. Research has shown that these enhancements do not help to deter individuals from committing future crimes, do not reduce recidivism, and do not increase public safety.  Instead, these enhancements put a significant financial burden on taxpayers and families statewide.

“If we are serious about reducing mass incarceration, then we must get rid of these costly and useless sentence enhancements,“ said Senator Wiener. “These antiquated laws cost taxpayers dearly, divert resources from critical needs like education and housing, tear families apart, and undermine rehabilitation, all while failing to make our communities safer. It’s time to do things differently and to move firmly away from California’s failed mass incarceration model.”

Enhancements carry a high price tag, harm state and local budgets, and shift dollars away from desperately needed community services. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), there were over 15,000 counts of the one-year sentence enhancement added to incarcerated individuals’ base sentences as of December 2018. This is a conservative estimate, as the CDCR’s assessment does not consider felony jail terms served at local county jails. California currently spends over $80,000 each year to imprison an individual.

"Draconian sentencing laws like the one-year enhancement for prior felony convictions are drivers for mass incarceration and they exacerbate public harms, rather than move us closer to a safe and just society,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Statewide Coordinator at Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Repealing the one-year enhancement means fairer court processes, it means saving state dollars on corrections and opens up the opportunity to redirect those funds into creating stronger communities by increasing community resources and keeping families together." 

The one-year enhancement addressed by SB 136 is but one enhancement among a myriad of enhancements available under California law. The bill does not alter an individual’s base sentence for their current felony charge or change any of the longer enhancements designed to punish violent, repeat offenders.

“While serving as a deputy public defender for over a decade, I saw firsthand how harmful and ineffective these one-year enhancements are and the manner in which they disproportionately impact people of color,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra. “I am proud to stand with Senator Wiener and call on my colleagues to support this important measure to eliminate outdated, ineffective sentencing policies in the California criminal justice system for good.”

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SB 136 is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pillars of the Community, and Tides Advocacy.

Full text of the bill can be found here.