California State Senators: Vote Yes on the RISE Act
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I am writing in strong support of SB 180, the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements Act. The RISE Act repeals the section of code that adds additional years of punishment for prior nonviolent drug offenses, a section that has failed to protect communities or reduce the availability of drugs, but that has resulted in overcrowded jails and prisons, unjustly harsh sentences for nonviolent crimes, and crippled state and local budgets. By repealing this expensive and ineffective punishment, funds will be freed to reinvest in community programs that actually improve the quality of life and reduce crime.
The RISE Act would begin to undo the damage of the failed War on Drugs. The long sentences that were central to the drug war strategy utterly failed to reduce drug availability or the number of people harmed in the illicit drug market. Controlled substances are now cheaper and more widely available than ever before, despite a massive investment of tax revenue and human lives in an unprecedented build-up and fill-up of prisons and jails that have devastated low-income communities of color. Young people have also suffered as a result of harsh Drug War policies, which separate children and families and leave youth with criminal records that limit their opportunities.
The RISE Act is urgently needed. Counties around the state are building new jails to imprison more people with long sentences, funneling money away from community-based programs and services. Since 2007, California has spent $2.2 billion on county jail construction – not including the costs borne by the counties for construction and increased staffing, or the state’s debt service for these high-interest loans. Sheriffs have argued for this expansion by pointing to their growing jail populations, particularly people with long sentences and with mental health and substance use needs. By reducing sentences for people with prior drug convictions, SB 180 will address the rationale for costly jail expansion, allowing state and county funds to be invested in programs and services that meet community needs and improve public safety, including community-based mental health and substance use treatment, job programs, and affordable housing.
The RISE Act will reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites.
Further, sentence enhancements based on prior convictions target the poorest and most marginalized people in our communities — those with substance use and mental health needs, and those who, after prior contact with police or imprisonment, have struggled to reintegrate into society.
For these reasons, among others, I respectfully urge you to vote “Aye” on SB 180 and that you use your position of leadership to encourage your colleagues to support this urgently needed reform.
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