SACRAMENTO — A new report by the California Budget & Policy Center shows despite the significant decline in the state’s prison population, California is still supporting a massive prison system that incarcerates men and women of color at higher rates than white men and women.
In recent years, California has taken steps to reform its approach to criminal justice, including reducing incarceration and promoting more effective pathways to rehabilitation. The Budget Center provides research and analysis about reforms to California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems that can improve outcomes for individuals and identify opportunities to invest money in preventive services.
California adopted a series of justice system reforms in the 2010s that substantially reduced mass incarceration. Did these reforms also help to reduce long standing racial disparities in state prisons — disparities that reflect the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx residents as well as other Californians of color? This report answers this question by examining changes in state-level incarceration during the 2010s for both men and women through the lens of race and ethnicity. While incarceration declined nearly across the board, by the end of the 2010s men and women of color generally continued to be incarcerated at higher rates than white men and women, and racial disparities generally widened.
Across California and the United States, the push for bail reform has gained momentum with increasing awareness and research showing the disproportionate impact the money bail system has on people of color and low-income households. Enter Proposition 25 that will appear on the November 3, 2020 statewide ballot and asks California voters to decide whether a 2018 state law that effectively ends money bail should take effect. If voters approve Prop. 25, judges will be able to utilize risk-based assessment tools – examining population links between rearrest or reconviction and individual factors such as age, gender, or criminal record – to determine if individuals detained for certain crimes can be released before a court appearance rather than posting money bail.
Over many years, California lawmakers and voters adopted a series of harsh, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws that prioritized punishment over rehabilitation, led to severe overcrowding in state prisons, and disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx Californians – consequences that many families still feel today. California began reconsidering its “tough on crime” approach a little over a decade ago as prison overcrowding reached crisis proportions and the state faced lawsuits filed on behalf of incarcerated adults. Ultimately, a federal court in 2009 ordered California to reduce overcrowding to no more than 137.5% of the prison system’s capacity – an order that remains in effect today.
Recent acts of police brutality against Black Americans and greater public outcry over the continued abuse and deaths of people across Black communities have amplified calls for defunding, abolishing, and reimagining local policing. This also comes with growing understanding that police violence has disproportionately fatal consequences for Black men and women, and Black transgender women in particular.The calls to action involve significantly transforming the mission and structure of local law enforcement, divesting from local law enforcement in its current forms, and reinvesting the freed-up funding into community-building capacities that would also seek to end racial profiling and police brutality against Black people and other people of color.