A law that many argued would help end widespread prison overcrowding in California was killed by Gov. Jerry Brown Tuesday.
Senate Bill 649 would have given state judges and district attorneys the ability to charge small possession cases as either felonies or misdemeanors, dropping prison times for personal amounts of drugs from up to three years in jail to under a year in some cases. Provisions were also included that would have increased treatment options for addicts.
The bill would also have helped curb spending in the courts by cutting back the number of trials. In California, felony charges require a preliminary hearing where the judge determines if there is enough evidence to move forward with the actual hearing. Misdemeanor charges don’t require those hearings.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there were 4,144 people in prison in California for drug possession for small amounts of drugs at the end of 2012. That translates to about $207 million in prison costs to incarcerate that many people for an entire year.
The move by Brown flies in the face of not only logic, but public polling. In a 2012 study by Tulchin Research, 75 percent of California voters polled were in favor of similar drug sentencing reform measures and 62 percent said that personal possession of certain drugs should be reduced to a misdemeanor outright.
“The Governor let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone,” Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the bill sponsors, said in a press release. “Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release – three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities.”