Published   October 12, 2013

Governor Vetoes Historic Drug Sentencing Reform Bill

Today is a frustrating day in California. Despite huge overwhelming support from California voters from across the state and political spectrum, Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed an historic sentencing reform bill that was sent to his desk with bipartisan support in the state Legislature.

By vetoing SB 649, Gov. Brown has thwarted the will of the voters and their elected representatives, rejecting a modest reform that would have helped roll back some overly harsh penalties in our state that continue to drive the mass incarceration crisis.

California voters and the legislature recognize the urgent need to re-evaluate our sentencing laws and enact smart reforms, especially for low level, non-violent drug crimes, to reduce the state’s reliance on incarceration and free up limited resources for the sorts of community-based treatment, education and job training programs proven to reduce crime and create safe and healthy communities.

Yet Gov. Brown remains inexplicably opposed to meaningful sentencing reform.

If a lengthy jail sentence kept people from becoming addicted, we wouldn’t have any drug problems. But California knows from experience that lengthy jail sentences for possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use just makes things worse – wasted lives, overcrowded jails, and devastating budget deficits.  California had a chance to turn the corner toward commonsense reform. But it was squandered.

The coalition of organizations and elected leaders that backed S.B. 649 is not giving up on sentencing reform!

Along with the ACLU of California, the bill was sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, the National Council of La Raza, the California NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the California Public Defenders Association, the William C. Velasquez Institute, Californians for Safety and Justice, and the Friends Committee on Legislation-California. Many other organizations and individuals played an important role in our historic effort to put meaningful sentencing reform on the governor’s desk.

Our work isn’t finished.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is the senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California

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