A sentencing commission created by the city of San Francisco called today for a change in state law to reduce the crime of possessing drugs for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“This reform would help reduce spending on prisons and jails and invest additional resources in drug treatment, mental health, and other community-based services,” the San Francisco Sentencing Commission said in its annual report.
Reducing personal drug possession to a lesser misdemeanor crime would also aid in offenders’ reentry to society and decrease recidivism, the commission said.
The 2013 report was released by District Attorney George Gascon, who chairs the advisory panel and spearheaded its creation by the Board of Supervisors in 2012.
The commission is made up of a dozen San Francisco law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, including Adult Probation Chief Wendy Still, Police Chief Suhr and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, in addition to Gascon.
It is the only such local commission in California and was created in response to the state’s 2011 realignment law, which transferred custody of certain low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails and moved their probation supervision from the state to counties.
The change in drug laws would have to be made by the state Legislature. Gascon spokesman Alex Bastian said the commission is in the process of sending the recommendation to state lawmakers.
In a second recommendation that would also require state action, the commission urged the Legislature to establish a statewide sentencing commission to review California sentencing laws and recommend possible reforms.
About 20 other states as well as the federal government have sentencing commissions or similar bodies, but California does not.
“California’s growing public safety, prosecutorial and correctional needs require that the state again explore the development of a California Sentencing Commission,” the report said.
The document also asked the Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors to urge Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to make creation of a statewide commission an element of a possible settlement of a pending federal court case concerning overcrowding in state prisons.
The San Francisco commission also issued three other recommendations that can be implemented locally through budget provisions enacted by the Board of Superiors.
Those recommendations are to establish an annual review of San Francisco sentencing data and invest in adequate support services; expand resources for alternative sentencing strategies; and invest in pre-booking and pre-charging diversion programs for drug offenses.
The city law establishing the commission provides that its purpose is to encourage the development of criminal sentencing strategies that reduce recidivism, prioritize public safety and victim protection, emphasize fairness, and use city resources efficiently.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News