Newsom has a mixed verdict on California’s criminal justice laws

By DON THOMPSON
Associated press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered a mixed verdict on more than three dozen criminal justice laws before his bill’s signing deadline Friday, approving measures to seal criminal records and releasing dying inmates, but rejecting offers to restrict solitary confinement and increase inmates’ wages.

Starting in July, a new law will give California what supporters call the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records, although it excludes felons convicted of serious, violent and sexual crimes. It will automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another crime for four years, as well as records for arrests that do not result in a conviction.

Inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California.  On Friday, September 30, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered a mixed verdict on more than three dozen criminal justice statutes ahead of his bill.  - deadline for signing.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. On Friday, September 30, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered a mixed verdict on more than three dozen criminal justice statutes ahead of his bill. – deadline for signing. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Backers estimate that 70 million Americans and eight million Californians are hampered by past convictions or criminal records. They estimated that the law could give more than one million Californians better access to jobs, housing and education.

Newsom also approved related measures, one allowing records to be sealed and erased even if former offenders still owe restitution and other court debts, and another making it easier to apply for pardon certificates.

“Old records that no longer reflect the reality of who someone is and what they have accomplished should not be a barrier to opportunity,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, who was part of the reform groups seeking legislation.

The bills have faced opposition from law enforcement agencies who said they could jeopardize public safety and rehabilitation efforts.

Newsom also relaxed standards to allow more sick and dying inmates to be released from state prisons. The new law will allow inmates to be released if they are permanently medically incapacitated or have a serious and advanced illness “with an end-of-life trajectory,” the standard used by the federal prison system.

“It reduces incarceration costs, but more importantly, ensures a more humane and efficient relief process for all people in California state prisons,” said Claudia Gonzalez of Root & Rebound, one of the reform groups that have called for the measure.

Opponents of law enforcement said the existing standards were adequate.

Among other new laws, Newsom approved requiring police departments to screen potential officers and fire current officers for involvement in hate groups and allowed non-citizens to become police officers.

It also expanded a 2020 law that allowed suspects to allege they were harmed by racial bias in their criminal charges, convictions or sentences. The earlier law was limited to cases after January 1, 2021. But this measure extends safeguards to prior convictions.

Newsom, a Democrat who says he supports second chances and reducing incarceration, has had a mixed record on criminal justice bills. He has supported many reform efforts, but in years past he has also vetoed other laws that he felt went too far or duplicated existing efforts.

This year, he blocked a bill that would have made California the latest state to restrict solitary confinement in jails and prisons, as well as add immigration detention centers for the first time.

Newsom said he supported the concept, but the bill would have set standards “overbroad and exclusions that could compromise the safety” of inmates and staff. He ordered state prison officials to develop their own regulations to restrict solitary confinement “except in limited situations.” , such as (…) violence in prison.

He also vetoed a bill that would have given the state prison system five years to slightly raise wages for inmates who typically only earn dollars a day, and a second bill that would have increased the “gate money” that inmates receive upon release from prison. the current $200 to $1,300. The bills had survived even as lawmakers this year rejected a constitutional change that could have required far greater compensation for detained workers.

In both rejections, Newsom cited the unbudgeted cost of bills as state revenues plummet — a theme in many of his vetoes this year.

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