Sentencing Policies and Practices in California

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This chapter traces sentencing policies and practices in California, including the decision to abandon indeterminate sentencing and the enactment of a sentencing reform statute called Realignment. It first discusses California’s sentencing policies and practices from 1970 through the sentencing reductions driven by litigation in the federal courts and by initiatives that have signaled the voters’ rethinking of California’s approach to punishment. It then considers how California has reversed the trend toward longer prison sentences, along with its Three Strikes legislation and its effect on California’s prison overcrowding crisis. It examines the declining crime rates in California and whether Three Strikes is responsible for that downturn; the national trend that has questioned the overuse of incarceration; the shift of prisoners from state prisons to county jails; and California’s failed efforts to adopt a sentencing commission in the past and prospects for future reforms. It concludes by looking at California’s death penalty