In the last few years, California has spent much of its time focusing on reducing its large prison population starting with criminal justice reform.

History of Legislation:


On October 11, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 180, The RISE Act, into law. This bill repealed most of the 3-year mandatory, consecutive sentence enhancements given to repeat drug offenders. Prior to the passage of this law, repeat drug offenders would have an additional 3-years added to their sentence for each prior conviction. The enhancements now only apply to repeat drug offenses involving a minor. 

Click here to read the letter sent to the California Senate in support of SB 180. 

On November 8, California voters passed Proposition 57 which was designed to lower prison population numbers. Two-thirds of voters supported this change to the state’s prison and legal systems, which brings about three significant ways:

  1. It reverses a law approved by voters in 2000 that sent more juvenile defendants to adult courtrooms. Those young defendants will now only be charged as adults with a judge’s approval instead of that of a prosecutor. 
  2. Creation new good-behavior credits that all state prisoners would be eligible to earn.
  3. Has the prospect of parole for felons who have not been convicted of one of California’s designated “violent” crimes.

AB 2309 expands the list of controlled substances eligible for deferred judgment to include certain prescription medications obtained without a valid prescription. In such cases, fraudulent possession no longer mandates prosecution, and the defendant may be eligible for diversion to a drug treatment program. Drug offenses already eligible for deferred judgment include violations for personal possession of a controlled substance, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, marijuana cultivation for personal use, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Prior drug convictions, violent offenses, previous unsuccessful diversion programming, or a felony conviction less than five years old make a defendant ineligible for participation.

SB 1227 allows judges to postpone for up to two years the prosecution of current or former members of the U.S. military who are charged with a misdemeanor. In order to be eligible, veterans must have suffered from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of their service. As part of the program, a court may prescribe a certain amount of time in an appropriate treatment facility. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges are dismissed. If the defendant fails, the judge may resume criminal proceedings.

AB 2492 eliminates the mandatory 90-day minimum custodial sentence for being under the influence of a controlled substance and allows for a term of probation up to five years. Judges may offer substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration for those who do not have a criminal history involving controlled substances.

Nov 2012:
On November 6, California voters passed Proposition 36. Almost 70 percent of voters supported its changes to the “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory minimum law, which required a life sentence for a third offense, even if it was minor or petty (e.g., stealing a slice of pizza). Proposition 36 requires that mandatory minimum life sentences can only be imposed for a third strike if the third conviction is for a serious or violent felony. The reforms were also made retroactive, allowing judges to reduce sentences for about 3,500 prisoners serving life for non-serious or non-violent third convictions, if the person does not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. Proposition 36 is projected to save the state $70-$100 million annually.

Jan 2007:
Supreme Court’s ruling in Cunningham v California decides that the second triad term in a given level is the maximum sentence allowed before violating 6th amendment rights. As a result, California enacts Senate Bill 40 that leaves the decision of which triad term to impose at the “discretion of the court.”

California’s Three-Strikes Law is enacted through legislation and eventually voter initiative. The law requires courts to impose harsher sentences for offenders with prior felony convictions. The last “strike” held a mandatory minimum of life in prison. At this time, California did not require the third offenses to be violent or a felony to receive this sentence.

Governor Jerry Brown signs the Determinate Sentencing Law, repealing the Indeterminate Sentencing Act. This classifies all offenses under five “degrees” with each level signed three “definite” terms. Only in some cases was indeterminate sentencing used at the discretion of judges, mostly for very serious crimes. This law was enacted in order to shorten criminal sentences!



   California Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation Budget: $7 billion 

   State Expenses: 7.9 billion

   Avg Annual Cost per inmate: $70,863

   State Population:38.8 million

   Currently Incarcerated: 129,593


How You Can Advocate for Sentencing Reform in Your State

You can do several things to work toward reforming your state’s sentencing laws – go to our get involved page to find out how.

Encourage your state lawmakers to support mandatory minimum sentencing reform. Be sure to connect with FAMM and other sentencing reformers on Facebook, Twitter, and by signing up for our email list.

Sentencing/Criminal Justice Reform Groups in this State: