A Democrat-backed bill making its way through the California Legislature would require judges in the state to consider a convicted criminal’s race when determining how long to sentence them to prison.
Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the Democratic chair of the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, quietly introduced Bill 852 in February. The Assembly went on to pass the little-known legislation in May, and the measure is currently being considered in the state Senate.
The bill would add a section to the Penal Code of California requiring courts, whenever they have the authority to determine a prison sentence, to ‘rectify’ alleged racial bias in the criminal justice system by taking into account how historically persecuted minorities are affected differently than others.
‘It is the intent of the Legislature to rectify the racial bias that has historically permeated our criminal justice system as documented by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,’ the proposed new section to the Penal Code reads. ‘Whenever the court has discretion to determine the appropriate sentence according to relevant statutes and the sentencing rules of the Judicial Council, the court presiding over a criminal matter shall consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations.’
The California task force referenced in the bill was created by state legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 to examine the possibility of implementing statewide reparations as a way to make amends for slavery and racism.
Late last month, the task force released its final recommendations, which the state legislature will now consider whether to implement and send to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
In its 1,00-page report, the task force proposed dozens of statewide policies and ways to calculate monetary reparations designed to redress slavery and historical injustices against Black Americans. According to the task force, such history has created lingering consequences that exist today in the form of systemic racism.
The task force estimated the minimum dollar amount in harm that California has caused or could have prevented totals at least $1 million per eligible Black Californian.
In terms of criminal justice specifically, the task force determined that qualifying Black residents could be owed over $115,000, or around $2,352 per year of residency in California from 1971 to 2020, as compensation for over-policing in Black communities, excess felony drug arrests, and disproportionate prison time during the so-called war on drugs. The final report also included proposals to end cash bail and the prosecution of low-level crimes.
Bill 852 seeks to build off the task force’s findings and recommendations by mandating that California courts fight what it describes as racial bias in sentencing that can disadvantage Black people and other minorities.
Critics argue the reparations proposals are fiscally unmanageable for a state already facing a deficit of tens of billions of dollars and say it doesn’t make sense to implement them when California never allowed slavery. The state explicitly outlawed slavery when it joined the Union in 1850.
Jones-Sawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment to elaborate on his legislation.