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State Sen. Wiener Renews Push To End Mandatory Sentences For Non-Violent Drug Offenses

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, joined San Francisco city leaders, among others, on Monday to announce new state legislation that would end mandatory jail sentences for people accused of nonviolent drug offenses.

Under the current law, judges are banned from sentencing first-time offenders of non-violent drug crimes to probation. Additionally, judges are also banned from sentencing someone to probation who has a prior drug offense and has been convicted of a second offense like personal drug possession, Wiener said.

Senate Bill 378, however, would repeal that law and give judges more discretion, allowing them to sentence those convicted of such offenses to probation and rehabilitative programs instead of jail time, if and when appropriate.

According to Wiener, the laws establishing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offense were established in the 1980s -- during the country's War on Drugs -- and resulted in overcrowded prisons, full of mostly low-income people and people of color.

"We have seen the damage that this mass incarceration in California has caused; tearing communities apart and tearing families apart, making it harder and harder to rehabilitate people and reintegrate people into society," Wiener said during an online news conference Monday.

Previous versions of the bill have been introduced several times in the past years by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. The two have coauthored the bill's latest version along with Wiener.

Although the bill has been in the works for years, Wiener said with COVID-19 spreading through the state's prisons, the time to push SB 378 forward is now.

"We're seeing the spread around our prison system and it shows once more the huge downside of overincarcerating," he said.

"Judges are actually forced to incarcerate people who would better be treated and supervised in their own communities under probation," Carrillo
said. "Mass incarceration impacts families across our state and consumes
billions of dollars that California should be investing in schools, infrastructure, health care, mental health and rehabilitation programs. Now over overcrowding and inadequate access to medical care has left correctional facilities across our state particularly vulnerable and defenseless against COVID-19."

"Mandatory minimums have for far too long disproportionately impacted people of color and our working community," San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said. "It is high time that we recognize that these mandatory minimums and the power that they implicate for district attorneys has been abused. It's led to spiraling incarceration. It's led to disproportionate sentencing for people of color and meanwhile the war on drugs continues to cost the U.S. over $47 billion a year, even though we know it is a failure."

"This is clearly a step in the right direction," San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju said. "This is expensive injustice. And the racial disparities because of where law enforcement is choosing to devote their
resources are startling."

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