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California Assembly Passes Diluted Prison Reform Bill

Publication Date: 
September 01, 2009
The Christian Science Monitor
Michael B. Farrell

Robert Weisberg, an expert in criminal justice, comments on establishing a sentencing commission in California, a provision that was removed from a recent bill to ease overcrowded prisons:

California lawmakers took another step Monday toward easing the vast overcrowding in state prisons, which federal judges have said are too congested to meet inmates' constitutional rights.

But some critics say one of the reforms most needed to fix the problem with the state's correctional system was stripped out of the bill the California State Assembly narrowly passed in a 41-35 vote.

Lawmakers removed a controversial provision to establish a commission to review state sentencing guidelines – some of the most rigid in the country.

"The very term 'sentencing commission' has become pretty toxic in California politics," says Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University. "It's often alleged that they take sentencing power away from the legislature."


But such panels – which have been successful in states such as Illinois, South Carolina, and Kentucky – more often provide "nonpartisan research and economic analysis of any proposed legislation, says Professor Weisberg.