New state legislation introduced on Tuesday by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would end mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and give judges the option of sentencing offenders to probation.
Wiener’s Senate Bill 73 seeks to put an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of addiction, which he says are often issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.
“The war on drugs and mass incarceration are policy and public health failures that hurt so many people,” he said in a statement. “We are living with the consequences of bad, racist policies, enacted in the 1970s and 80s, which disproportionately criminalize and harm Black and brown communities.”
Currently, if a prior drug offender is convicted of a second offense like drug possession for personal use, a judge is barred from sentencing probation and must sentence jail time. Additionally, judges are also barred from sentencing some first-time offenders with nonviolent drug charges to probation, according to Wiener’s office.
SB 73, however, would give judges discretion, allowing them to sentence first time offenders and others facing nonviolent drug charges to probation and rehabilitation programs instead of jail, if appropriate.
“We need to give discretion back to our courts when it comes to nonviolent drug offenses and ensure that we aren’t unnecessarily incarcerating people who might be better served by probation or treatment for addiction. Our drug laws are a stain on California, and we must stop hurting communities and wasting valuable resources jailing people who have committed nonviolent drug offenses,” Wiener said in announcing the legislation.
“Mandatory minimums are cruel, ineffective, and have exacerbated recidivism and racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement Tuesday in support of the bill. “Though ending mandatory minimums has long been overdue, COVID-19 renders mass incarceration not just a moral and economic crisis, but a public health crisis as well. SB 73 will not only help end mass incarceration, it will save lives as well.”
Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, Sydney Kamlager, D-Los Angeles, David Chiu, D-San Francisco, Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, and Senator Steven Bradford, D-Los Angeles, are co-authors of SB 73. It is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance.