Sacramento, CA —The California Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 4-2 to pass Senate Bill 180, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara, a bill that would repeal lengthy sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions.
Currently, anyone convicted for drug sale, possession for sale, or similar offenses can face an additional three years in prison or jail for each conviction for a similar offense. For example, a person facing a new conviction for possessing a very small amount of drugs for sale, which has a base penalty of up to four years, could face an extra nine years if they have three prior drug convictions. This is not an uncommon scenario for addicted, homeless drug users. These types of drug enhancements are the leading cause of sentences over 10 years in county jail, according to data from the state sheriffs association.
Enacted in 1985, this enhancement was intended to deter drug sales and reduce the availability of drugs in California’s. Experts agreed that it failed on all counts – drugs are cheaper, stronger, and more widely available than at any other time in US history.
Sentence enhancements ultimately target the poorest and most marginalized people in our communities—those with substance use and mental health needs who have struggled to reintegrate into society. While rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for drug law violations.
“After 32 years of having this enhancement on the books, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more readily available within our communities. This sentencing enhancement has been an expensive, punitive, and racially biased policy that has led to the incarceration of generations of our communities,” said Eunisses Hernandez, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It has led to a build up our carceral system, but has done nothing to make our communities safer.”
This enhancement has contributed to jail and prison overcrowding, and wasted millions of California tax payer dollars. Removing this enhancement would free up funds that could be invested in programs and services that reduce crime and improve public safety, including community-based mental health and substance use treatment, job programs, and housing.
Advocates laud the Assembly Public Safety Committees passage of SB 180. The bill already passed a full Senate vote, and will now be referred to the Assembly floor vote debate and a vote. With SB 180, California moves one step closer to ending the war on drugs by repealing these unreasonable and extreme sentences born out of a racially biased and punitive era.
This bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Drug Policy Alliance, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, California Public Defenders Association, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Friends Committee on Legislation of California.