CA bill allowing judicial review of old sentences passes its first hurdle


SB 94, which would allow judges to review death penalty and life-without-parole sentences for people who have been imprisoned for at least 20 years, passed the Senate Public Safety Committee earlier this month. It now moves to the Appropriations Committee.

The cost savings would be enormous. Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), the bill’s sponsor, said in a news release that it would save the state “hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” pointing to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office estimate that it currently costs California about $106,000 per year for each individual imprisoned. And, he said, referring to research by Pew Charitable Trusts, that figure “doubles or triples for inmates 55 or older with chronic health issues.”

And public safety is not an issue. He notes that the vast majority — 88% — of those serving life-without-parole sentences are classified as low risk on CDCR’s Static Risk Assessment tool and that “The recidivism rate for this inmate population is zero. That shows us that people age out of crime, and many have done the work to rehabilitate after decades behind bars. This inmate population deserves a path to parole.”

The bill would allow individuals to petition for judicial review on special circumstance offenses committed before June 5, 1990. It would allow judges to look at a host of mitigating factors in the applicant’s case. If the petitioner is denied, they will have to wait two years before trying again.  

Judges will have the discretion to leave a sentence unchanged or to resentence an individual to a lesser sentence (death-penalty sentences would be reduced only to life without parole).

If passed into law, 820 people would be eligible for sentencing review under SB 94, Cortese said. 

SB 94 is sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Felony Murder Elimination Project, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Families United to End Life Without Parole, and The Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition.

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