California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Sept. 30 that reduces the amount of time offenders in the Golden State will spend on probation. Assembly Bill 1950 limits probation to one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies. Under previous laws, judges in California could sentence individuals convicted of committing misdemeanors to up to three years of probation.
The Los Angeles lawmaker who introduced the bill says that changes were needed to California’s probation laws to save taxpayers money and prevent individuals convicted of minor crimes from becoming trapped in the criminal justice system for years on end. She points out that almost one in 10 of the prison inmates in California are behind bars because they violated the conditions of their probation. Minor slips that can lead to incarceration include missing meetings with probation officers, failing toxicology tests, and ignoring travel restrictions.
In addition to possible jail time, this kind of violation can lead to individuals who are sentenced to a year or two of probation being monitored for eight or nine years. According to the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, this is unfair to nonviolent offenders, strains already stretched state government resources and places an unnecessary burden on the criminal justice system. She says that the bill will benefit disadvantaged communities in California that are subjected to closer scrutiny than other groups and often treated unfairly by police officers.
Alternatives to jail
When their clients are accused of committing minor offenses, experienced criminal law attorneys may encourage prosecutors to consider alternatives to fines and jail time such as probation, community service or substance abuse counseling. Prosecutors usually work under heavy caseloads, and they may accept such a suggestion in return for a quick and successful resolution.