California lawmakers pass bill for judges to lower sentences for black criminals over slavery

Legislators in California, United States, have passed a bill that would require judges in the state to consider black criminals when being convicted. 

The bill, backed by state democrats, would also allow the judges to determine how long to sentence such convicted blacks to prison for crimes committed. 

Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a democratic assembly member, quietly introduced the Bill 852 in February, saying it was aimed to rectify racial bias in the justice system.  

In May, the assembly passed the little-known legislation – which would see judges weighing how persecuted minorities have been. 

Now, the measure is currently being considered in the state’s upper chamber, the senate. 

The bill would add a section to the Penal Code of California Senate regarding race and, if signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, it would require the courts, whenever they have the authority to determine a prison sentence, to “rectify” alleged racial bias in the criminal justice system.

“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. 

“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 proposed new section to the Penal Code reads.

The bill added that race as a factor when making a judgment will help to determine the “appropriate sentence according to relevant statutes.” 

The controversial bill comes as the state continues to consider the cost and overall implications of paying black residents reparation for slavery and racism. 

Although, the California task force referenced in the bill was created by state legislation signed by Mr 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 the 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.

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