SF to Create Sentencing Commission and Recidivism Ordinance to Address Realignment

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167
ADA Omid Talai, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-9272

San Francisco - District Attorney George Gascón, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Supervisor Malia Cohen held a press conference today with law enforcement officials to announce the introduction of the Sentencing Commission and Recidivism Reduction Ordinance which is being introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting today.

The ordinance, spearheaded by District Attorney George Gascón and in partnership with Chief Wendy Still of the Adult Probation Department was created in response to realignment, a new state law to take effect on October 1, 2011 that puts counties in charge of the majority of criminal offenders, instead of the state prison. San Francisco will have an increased responsibility for the custody and supervision of more offenders, creating additional pressure on the criminal justice system at a time of significant budgetary constraints.

“Realignment is challenging San Francisco to think differently and find creative solutions to reduce recidivism while prioritizing public safety,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “The Sentencing Commission brings together experts in the field to make sure our city’s criminal justice investments are the right ones.”

The San Francisco Sentencing Commission will encourage the development of sentencing strategies that reduce recidivism, prioritize public safety, emphasize fairness, and employ evidence-based best practices. A comprehensive review of local sentencing approaches assures the City is using public resources effectively to reduce recidivism.

According to Supervisor Scott Wiener, "In these difficult budget times, we need to be smart in how we approach sentencing. We can do this by ensuring that those who need to be in jail are incarcerated while not allowing our jail budget to overwhelm other budget priorities. This proposal represents a disciplined approach that will move us in the right direction."

"Realignment is going to have significant impacts on this City and likely disproportionate impacts on low income neighborhoods," said Supervisor Malia Cohen. "In this climate we need to be even more strategic in evaluating our local sentencing approaches to ensure that we continue to be a leader in evidence based criminal justice strategies and prioritize our public safety resources.”

The Commission will review sentencing approaches and those of other jurisdictions; develop uniform definitions of recidivism and recidivism tracking standards; make recommendations regarding changes that should be made to the Penal Code; and, provide recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on how to reinvest any custody budgetary savings into effective alternatives to incarceration and alternative sanctions programs.

At least 17 states, including North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington have established some form of a sentencing commission in the last 20 years. Many of these commissions serve the function of reviewing and tracking criminal case outcomes and making recommendations on sentencing reforms needed to improve sentencing effectiveness and fairness.

District Attorney George Gascón will chair the Sentencing Commission, which will be made up of a diverse group of stakeholders. Members, who will meet for three years, will include the Public Defender, Adult Probation, Juvenile Probation, Sheriff, Police, the Department of Public Health, a representative from the Reentry Council, a member of a nonprofit organization that works with victims, a member of a nonprofit organization that works with ex-offenders, a criminologist, and an academic researcher.

If enacted, San Francisco could be the first county in California to establish a local Sentencing Commission.