A Democratic-supported bill that addresses racial bias in the state’s criminal justice system is currently making its way through the California Legislature.
Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the Democratic chair of the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, introduced the relatively unknown Bill 852 in February.
The Assembly subsequently passed the legislation in May, and it is now under consideration in the state Senate.
The proposed bill aims to amend the Penal Code of California and requires judges to consider a convicted criminal’s race when determining prison sentences.
Its objective is to rectify the historical racial bias deeply ingrained in the criminal justice system.
The legislation asserts that historically persecuted minorities have been disproportionately affected and aims to address this disparity.
The bill states, “The Legislature intends to rectify the racial bias that has historically permeated our criminal justice system, as documented by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.”
The bill further emphasizes that courts must consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations when exercising their discretion in determining appropriate sentences.
The California task force, which Governor Gavin Newsom established in 2020 to investigate the possibility of implementing statewide reparations to address the legacy of slavery and racism, inspires the legislation.
The task force recently released its final recommendations, which the state legislature is reviewing.
These recommendations would be sent to the governor’s desk for approval if implemented.
The task force’s comprehensive 1,000-page report proposes various statewide policies and outlines methodologies to calculate monetary reparations for historical injustices against Black Americans.
The report highlights the lasting consequences of slavery and systemic racism today.
Notably, the task force estimates that each eligible Black Californian has incurred a minimum of $1 million in harm caused or preventable by the state.
Regarding criminal justice, the task force found that qualifying Black residents may be entitled to compensation of over $115,000—roughly $2,352 per year of residency in California from 1971 to 2020.
This compensation would address issues such as over-policing in Black communities, excessive felony drug arrests, and disproportionate prison sentences during the so-called war on drugs.
Additionally, the final report proposed measures to abolish cash bail and end the prosecution of low-level offenses.
Bill 852 seeks to build upon the task force’s findings and recommendations by requiring California courts to actively combat racial bias in sentencing.
The legislation aims to ensure fairer outcomes for Black individuals and other marginalized communities by considering race as a factor.