Governor Brown has signed AB2590, the Restorative Justice Act, into law. This measure, strongly supported by the California Catholic Conference aims to shift the priority in criminal sentencing from punishment to public safety.
Existing California law (Penal Code section 1170) sets fixed or “determinate” sentences for each crime. In addition it made punishment the single purpose for criminal sentences in California. Over the past 40 years, it has become clear that depending only on punishment by incarceration is not effective and far too expensive.
AB2590, sponsored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, changes this law to make public safety the primary purpose for criminal sentences, achieved through accountability, rehabilitation and restorative justice. The current system of determinate sentences is not affected by this change. However it opens the door for judges to find rehabilitative and restorative sentencing solutions, where appropriate.
In strongly endorsing this bill, California’s 24 Bishops declared that a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate laws. Both victims and offenders are children of God and despite their very different claims in society, their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. A Catholic vision of crime and criminal justice can offer some alternatives. This change in the law offers an alternative to punitive justice will create change within our criminal justice system and put an emphasis on public safety.
“When the respect for basic human rights is neglected, the implementation of the penalty degenerates into an instrument of punishment alone and of social retaliation, which in turn is detrimental to the individual and society.”
— Pope Francis, Visit to Detainees, Penitentiary Staff, and their Families, June 2014