With the California Legislature’s February 16 bill introduction deadline rapidly approaching, now seems as good a time as any to dive in to a conversation I had with Liah Burnley, a Policy Advocate for Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), where we look at some of the upcoming criminal justice reform bills in 2018. We talked extensively about the bills that CSJ is taking the lead on, but it is worth noting that they will also be co-sponsoring more bills with other members of the criminal justice reform community. This is just a sample of what to expect this year.
The last time we talked with Liah, we discussed how CSJ’s policy priorities are influenced by survivors of crime and the formerly incarcerated. That is absolutely evident in the priorities we talk about, which are: occupational licensing standards and the background check process – informed by CSJ’s Second Chances program which works to assist the formerly incarcerated – providing trauma informed services in K-12 schools – influenced by their Crime Survivors Network – and CSJ is also wading into sentencing reform, with a specific look at reforming enhancements and how they’re used.
The issues of professional licensing and background checks go hand in hand. As Liah points out the process is “very messy” and that background check reports that go to licensing boards “are often incomplete, inaccurate” which makes it easier for a licensing board to deny someone a professional license. One of the issues that Liah notes is that these boards have broad authority to deny someone a license, even someone without a record, and in doing so it makes it more difficult for the formerly incarcerated to take a skill that they have a turn it into a career where they can earn money for themselves and their family.
The other issue that we spent a large chunk of time on was sentencing reform, which is important given that California’s prison system is still over 130% capacity. Specifically, CSJ is looking at reforming gang enhancements and the way enhancements are used. Currently, someone with a prior conviction, can get an enhancement tacked on just for having the prior. If that prior is also a strike under California’s Three Strikes law, it’s another enhancement in addition to the first enhancement. So for someone who has already served their time for one previous mistake, they can be looking at seeing the time they serve for a new misstep increase dramatically. As Liah points out:
“You’re looking at five more years, plus your time doubled, plus your base sentence, plus any other enhancements that may be added to your sentence. You’re going from what could’ve been a three year sentence to a twenty year sentence.”