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Criminal Justice

California Democrats are committed to public safety, while supporting a criminal justice system that provides fair and equitable treatment for all. We support efforts to reimagine public safety programs to ensure that our communities are safe and secure while protecting the rights of all residents. Crime prevention and rehabilitation must focus on evidence- based programs and investment in alternatives to incarceration.

We are committed to eliminating racial and economic disparities within the criminal justice system and to ending mass incarceration in California prisons and jails.

Criminal justice reform must incorporate every aspect of the criminal justice system, including what we choose to criminalize; the practices and behavior of law enforcement professionals; charging, sentencing, and bail; treatment of those incarcerated; diversion and rehabilitation; and, reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society.

To promote a fair and just criminal justice system, California Democrats will:

Fair and Just Laws and Equitable Enforcement

  • Oppose criminalization of persons who commit low-level offenses due to homelessness or mental illness by directing them to public health and housing services, rather than resorting to arrest;
  • Oppose homeless encampment sweeps and destruction of tents, shelters, and possessions absent a public health necessity;
  • Oppose homeless encampment sweeps and destruction of tents, shelters, and possessions unless adequate health and transitional housing services are available;
  • Support equal enforcement of laws and policies that protect both women and men from sexual assault and rape;
  • Support the ongoing regulation and taxation of cannabis, while prioritizing health, education, and safety over revenue or profits;
  • Support balanced funding for public defender and district attorney agencies so that the promise of a constitutionally adequate defense is realized;
  • Support reforms to the sex-offender registry that would remove those crimes, and the names of those convicted of crimes, that pose no public safety risk;
  • Oppose the use of nuisance ordinances that are used to evict tenants in a discriminatory way;
  • Support statewide reforms to the criminal grand jury selection process to ensure that those empaneled represent the demographics of the county in which they sit so as to reduce race, age, and gender biases, and to promote the equal application and administration of justice; and,
  • Support the decriminalization of the possession and use of small amounts of illegal drugs and implement a health- based rather than punitive-based approach to drug addiction.

Crime Prevention

  • Support investment in proven strategies to prevent crime, including providing structured preschool and afterschool programs for youth, as well as programs and policies to promote school retention and graduation to effectively end the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Support community-based gang prevention and intervention programs; and,
  • Support implementing community policing strategies where the officers and the community work together as partner;.

Law Enforcement Practices and Accountability

  • Support the implementation of de-escalation policies and practices rather than resorting to physical restraint – particularly aggressive restraints such as canine deployment; Tasers; chemical sprays; violence; arrest; or, threat of such actions in the face of anger, disagreement, or resistance;
  • Support the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers who are trained to work effectively in cross- cultural situations;
  • Support law enforcement officers with excellent pay and benefits and resources to work in a safe environment;
  • Support laws that will hold enforcement officers accountable for misconduct, including dismissal where appropriate;
  • Encourage local governments to hold peace officers personally liable for damage awards in cases of excessive force and wrongful death where a violation of policy is found;
  • Support training programs for law enforcement officers that include de-escalation; implicit, unconscious, and explicit bias; cultural competency; interacting with people with disabilities, including individuals with mental or behavioral health challenges; and, dealing with individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • Support the creation of local civilian oversight for all law enforcement agencies and insist on independent investigators in cases of police use of deadly force or in-custody death;
  • Declare that the prevalence and impact of inequitable and inappropriate use of force by law enforcement giving rise to deaths, injuries, trauma, and stress that disproportionately affects marginalized populations (i.e., people of color, immigrants, individuals experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, individuals with mental challenges, drug addicts, and sex workers) is a critical public health issue;
  • Support the universal use of police body and dashboard cameras and prisoner compartment cameras;
  • Support rules requiring police officers to mitigate injuries by calling for medical assistance where requested or where a suspect has been injured during a police encounter;
  • Support collection of demographic data (including ethnicity, language, gender identity and age) for all persons detained, fined, arrested, injured or killed during police encounters;
  • Support prioritizing funding for labs to complete all rape kits in a timely manner;
  • Support the use of DNA testing where appropriate to protect those wrongfully accused and to set free those wrongfully convicted;
  • Challenge the use of “stop and frisk,” “pretext stops,” and other detention policies that are disproportionately applied to persons of color; and prohibit law enforcement officers from stopping people for technical non-safety-related traffic infractions and allow law enforcement officers to request permission to search during traffic stops only when the officer is able to document a reasonable suspicion to believe the search will uncover evidence of a crime;
  • Support use of mobile crisis response teams staffed by behavioral health professionals instead of law enforcement to be the first responders to mental or behavioral health-related calls that do not involve known threats of violence or medical emergencies; and,
  • Support the development of policing plans (including financial transparency) for unincorporated communities so that these residents may better advocate for their municipal needs;

Crime Survivors

  • Support victim-witness advocacy that provides therapeutic assistance, financial compensation, and support for comprehensive services for victims of crime; and,
  • Monitor victim-services in district attorney offices to ensure that victims are informed of progress of their cases, arraignments or plea agreements, and when a perpetrator is released from custody.

Juvenile Justice

  • Oppose youth being held in adult prisons and jails and the practice of trying juveniles as adults;
  • Support youth parole by providing review for all sentences committed before the age of 23, including sentences of Life, Life Without the Possibility of Parole, and determinate sentences;
  • Support increased oversight of juvenile justice agencies and implementation of trauma-responsive justice systems grounded in adolescent development to yield better outcomes for youth and reduce racial and socioeconomic inequalities; and,
  • Work toward ending the systematic bias that disadvantages and harms students based on stereotypes surrounding disabilities, race, and socioeconomic status.

Fairness for the Accused and Rehabilitation of Offenders

  • Support the implementation of restorative justice practices within law enforcement agencies and schools that bring together those who have committed crimes with victims and community members in an effort to recognize and repair the damage caused by criminal activity through accountability and rehabilitation;
  • Support effective, quality drug treatment programs that are easily accessible for every person with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder;
  • Support the establishment of a non-partisan sentencing commission that is mandated to review sentencing laws;
  • Support reducing prison overcrowding by decreasing penalties and decriminalizing certain drug and other non- violent offenses, implementing state law provisions for compassionate release and release for older, long-term prisoners, and
  • support community service as an alternative sentence for low-risk individuals;
  • Support reforming the bail system so that persons awaiting trial do not languish in jails solely because of financial circumstances;
  • Recognize that reforms to the bail system must comprehensively take into account that bail is a form of insurance and is regulated by the California Department of Insurance under the California Bail Bonds Act of 1937 and that bail schedules are determined by the judicial council but are set by local courts county by county and may vary county by county;
  • Support abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with lifetime incarceration without the possibility of parole;
  • Oppose using prisons and jails as de facto mental health facilities and fight to adequately fund community mental health and substance abuse programs;
  • Support requirements that all law enforcement and prison be trained on how to properly interact with those with mental health challenges;
  • Defend policies that (1) ensure incarcerated transgender people be housed with dignity and respect and according to their gender identity or their perception of their own health and safety needs, and (2) require that incarcerated people’s self-reported gender identity, first name, and gender pronouns be recorded and used by prison staff, corrections officers, and contractors;
  • Oppose involuntary servitude or use of prison labor by private companies;
  • Support fair wages for use of prison labor by public agencies;
  • Advocate that the state adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of solitary confinement;
  • Support ending the practice of housing Californians in out-of-state jails and prisons;
  • Support comprehensive rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism;
  • Support elimination of all private prisons, jails, and detention centers;
  • Support contact and communication between those who are incarcerated and their families because the strongest predictor of post-incarceration success is family support;
  • Support investment in programs that assist families in visitation, communication, and planning for re-entry;
  • Support trauma-informed education and programs in correctional facilities that grant high school diplomas and prepare inmates for successful re-entry;
  • Support eliminating or substantially limiting the use of the Three Strikes law by establishing a time period, after which prior offenses cannot be counted as strikes, establishing that juvenile adjudications cannot be counted as strikes, and disallowing the doubling of sentences for prior strikes when the new offense is not serious or violent, as significant steps towards reducing racial disparities in our criminal justice system;
  • Support partnerships with local building and construction trades councils to provide career training to incarcerated men and women through apprenticeship programs;
  • Support providing individuals on parole and probation with clear information about their rights and responsibilities in order to reduce parole and probation violations; and,
  • Support removing barriers to accessing public benefits for people with felony convictions, including victim services and removing unreasonable or unrelated barriers to employment based on prior incarceration or convictions.


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