SURJ Bay Area’s Policy Committee supports incredible partner organizations – Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) / All of Us or None(AOUON), Essie Justice Group, Initiate Justice, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employer’s Network, and the DropLWOP Coalition – in their legislative advocacy campaigns, all aimed at ending the prison industrial complex and building a world free of cages and with equitable working and living conditions for all. As we enter the 2023 California legislative cycle, we’d like to share the bills (and visions!) our partners are focused on.
Please join us in taking action to support these incredible bills by joining our Legislative Action List here and/or joining our weekly Action Hours here!
Bills to Strengthen Our Democracy
For years, SURJ Bay Area has supported campaigns to restore voting rights to people who have experienced incarceration or are currently incarcerated. We see universal voting rights as a vital issue for our democracy and a racial justice issue. In recent years, our partners have won historic campaigns to restore voting rights to people in jail and people on parole. The following two bills seek to further strengthen our communities and democracy.
ACA 4 / AB 1595 (Bryan) Voting Rights for All Californians
These companion bills would restore voting rights to people who are currently incarcerated in state prison. In 2020, over 50,000 Black people and over 77,000 Latinx people in California were prohibited from voting because of their contact with the criminal legal system. Data shows that people who vote while incarcerated and shortly thereafter are 50% less likely to ever be arrested again. It’s time to restore the right to vote to our incarcerated community members! These bills are co-sponsored by Initiate Justice and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Bills for Equitable Labor and Housing Practices
The following bills aim to correct discriminatory practices in labor, hiring, and housing for people who are currently and formerly incarcerated as well as for domestic workers and those earning minimum wage. These groups have been historically excluded from legal protections offered to other workers, and their labor has been consistently devalued as a result of institutionalized racism, sexism, and xenophobia. These bills aim to right some of these historic wrongs and ensure that everyone in California is equitably protected at their workplaces.
ACA 8 (Wilson) - End Slavery in CA Act
More than 94,000 Californians are currently enslaved in state prison. Although no courts explicitly order forced labor as a part of criminal sentencing, it’s standard practice to force incarcerated people to perform labor. Involuntary servitude leads to dangerous work conditions with virtually no accommodations, whether in CDCR factory settings or ever-increasing wildfires outside the prison. ACA 8, The End Slavery in California Act, would give voters the opportunity to amend Article 1, Section 6 of the California Constitution to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude without exception. This is part of a national movement to end slavery in all its forms in the US, and is co-sponsored by LSPC.
SB 686 (Durazo) - Health and Safety for All Workers
Building on the success of a 2021 bill that established voluntary guidelines for the safety of domestic workers, SB 686 would eliminate the exclusion of privately paid “household domestic service” employees from California’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (Cal/OSHA). Currently, domestic workers and day laborers are the only workers left out of California’s workplace health and safety protections, and thus the two million homes that employ domestic workers are unprotected worksites. These workers are regularly exposed to health and safety threats like toxic cleaning products, extreme heat, wildfire smoke, and lifting injuries, with no means to remedy them. SB 686 would also support domestic employers to be able to provide healthy and safe conditions by establishing a financial and technical assistance program as well as outreach and education. This bill is sponsored by the California Domestic Workers Coalition.
Resentencing and Alternative Sentencing Bills
For decades, California enacted draconian laws that led to unjustly long sentences and an incarceration crisis. The following bills aim to provide modest opportunities for resentencing, improved oversight and transparency in our parole process, and require survivors of harm to be informed about restorative justice options. Together, these bills help pave the way to a world of more healing and less incarceration.
AB 1310 (McKinnor) The Equal Chance Act
Over 37,000 incarcerated people—89% of whom are people of color—are serving additional years in California prisons because of a “firearm enhancement.” Data shows that sentence enhancements like firearm enhancements are costly, ineffective, and a relic of the failed tough on crime era. In 2017, the Legislature passed a bill to give judges the discretion to decide whether or not to strike or dismiss a firearm enhancement during sentencing, but the bill was prospective only and didn’t apply to people whose sentences were final. This bill will allow currently incarcerated people with firearm enhancements to petition for resentencing to allow judges to exercise this discretion and apply other ameliorative changes in the law to eliminate disparity of sentences and promote uniformity of sentencing. This bill is co-sponsored by Initiate Justice.
SB 94 (Cortese) Judicial Review of Old Sentences
In recent years, the Legislature has passed numerous bills to restore judicial discretion and to allow judges to consider mitigating factors at sentencing. This bill would provide judicial review for people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) or sentence to death for offenses committed before June 5, 1990 and who have served at least 20 years of their sentence. Judges would have the opportunity to review evidence of mitigating factors or reduced risk of violence and then decide whether to leave the sentence unchanged or to resentence a person to a lesser sentence. This bill does not guarantee release—it simply creates a process for the review of cases that have not been looked at in decades. For incarcerated people who merit a second chance, there would be an opportunity for them to work to earn parole. This bill is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, DropLWOP campaign, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
SB 81 (Skinner & Becker) Fairness and Transparency in Parole
A recent report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that our parole process needs safeguards to increase objectivity, transparency, and oversight to make sure decisions made by parole commissioners are based on public safety considerations. This bill implements key recommendations from this report, including mandating that parole denials are based on objective reasons that a person is a public safety risk; reducing bias and discrimination in parole decisions; and ensuring that people denied parole understand their right to seek judicial review of the denial and have an attorney for this process. This bill is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Initiate Justice.
AB 60 (Bryan) Restorative Justice
This bill will require that victims / survivors of harm receive notice of the availability of community-based Restorative Justice programs and processes in their community, county, county jails, juvenile detention facilities, and prisons. This bill is co-sponsored by Initiate Justice.
AB 1118 (Kalra) The California Racial Justice Act Claims
This bill makes technical changes to the procedures for claims under the Racial Justice Act, key legislation that our partners worked tirelessly on in recent years. This bill is co-sponsored by Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Initiate Justice.
Bills Supporting the Rights of Incarcerated People
People who are incarcerated, particularly those from vulnerable populations, face a number of unjust and unnecessary regulations that restrict their rights and keep them in poverty. The following bills focus on the rights of incarcerated people and their families, including limits on the price of basic supplies, preventing extreme financial hardship of incarcerated youth, and expanding the right of visitation with loved ones.
SB 474 (Becker) The BASIC (Basic Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians) Act The BASIC Act helps incarcerated people and their families by eliminating price markups on items purchased in California’s prison canteen stores. The price of canteen goods is not currently regulated under California law, leading to significant markups on products. Most incarcerated people make between $0.08 and $0.37 an hour, but an 8 oz package of coffee grounds, for example, can cost up to $9 in a canteen. This represents 16%-75% of an incarcerated person’s monthly income. SB 474 eliminates markups on products sold in prison canteens so that the price of the product does not exceed the price paid by CDCR to product vendors. This bill is estimated to save incarcerated people and their families, who are already highly likely to be enduring economic hardship, $30 million each year. This bill is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
AB 1226 (Haney) Family Proximity for Incarcerated Parents
This bill requires CDCR to assign an incarcerated parent to serve their term in the institution closest to their minor child’s home. Currently, about 195,000 children have incarcerated parents in California state prisons. Under current CDCR practices, the incarcerated parent’s family location is taken into consideration, but there is no law that specifically requires CDCR to place a parent close to their minor child, and many families end up hundreds of miles apart from each other. The long distances place a burden on families who do not have the financial means or the time to travel across the state for family visits and causes increased adverse effects on children and parents due to the trauma of separation. Proximity benefits children and their incarcerated parents and leads to more positive outcomes for both. This bill is co-sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC).
AB 958 (Santiago and Bonta) - Restore Visiting as a Right
Maintaining consistent connections between incarcerated persons and their loved ones is often difficult, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Currently, incarcerated people can be denied visits with family or friends as a disciplinary action for offenses unrelated to visitation. AB 958 will addresses these barriers to visitation by reinstating incarcerated people’s right to receive visits, prohibiting denial of visits as a discipline for conduct, prohibiting denial of visits based on mistakes on a visitor’s application, codifying a minimum of three in-person visiting days a week for people serving felonies in state prisons and in jails, and more. By establishing incarcerated persons’ right to personal visits, AB 958 will support families with incarcerated persons and help people thrive once they return home. This bill is co-sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) and the Drop LWOP Coalition.
AB 1186 (Bonta) - REPAIR Act (Realizing Equity while Promoting Accountability & Impactful Relief)
Currently, California law states that judges must order youth who have been found to cause loss or injury to pay restitution to the person their actions harmed. This debt is enforceable through wage garnishment and other means, is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and can follow youth well into adulthood. Studies have found that Black youth are more likely to owe restitution in higher amounts and are younger, on average, when they are ordered to pay restitution. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and lack of resources in Black and brown communities while doing little to provide actual restitution to persons harmed. AB 1186 will allow youth to make amends through non-monetary and youth-appropriate alternatives such as community service, restorative justice, or personal development programs. This bill will provide crime survivors with more equitable and stable compensation while setting youth who have caused harm on a more meaningful path towards rehabilitation and accountability. This bill is co-sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) and Initiate Justice.
AB 1266 (Kalra) - The End Debtor’s Prison Act
Current law allows courts to impose a civil assessment (up to $100) or issue a bench warrant for a person’s arrest when a person fails to appear in court or pay a fine. Despite recent reforms, judges can still issue bench warrants for arrest in cases involving infractions such as traffic violations or loitering. Black Californians are not only significantly more likely to be stopped, searched, and experience use of force by law enforcement, they are also 9.7 times more likely to receive a citation than white Californians. The current law exacerbates an already unfair system by encouraging the arrest of people who cannot pay fines, and those who are living in poverty are much more likely to end up in prison as a result of inability to pay. This bill amends the penal and vehicle code so that bench warrants cannot be issued for these minor violations. This bill is co-sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC).
Other Important Campaigns
SURJ Bay Area is also part of the #CloseCAPrisons campaign, led by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and supported by many of our partner organizations. This visionary campaign is calling for the closure of 10 prisons by 2025 in California. In 2021, CURB published a plan for how the state can safely and swiftly reduce our prison population, close 10 prisons by 2025, and embark on a plan to reinvest the billions we currently spend on prisons to bolster our economy and create jobs for both community members and former prison staff. In 2023, they followed this up with a practical and visionary roadmap for how to make this a reality. SURJ Bay Area is supporting this vital and visionary campaign through state budget advocacy and public education, all aimed at securing the closure of 10 prisons in California by 2025.
This article was updated on 06/13/2023 to remove four bills that did not pass out of their house of origin this year, which means they will no longer be a policy priority for SURJ Bay Area in 2023. For readers who want to learn more about the bills that did not pass, they are: AB 544 Voting in County Jail, SB 460 Fair Chance Housing, SB 809 Fair Chance Act: Conviction History, and AB 1516 CA Wage Increase for All.
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