“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.1” A powerful, compassionate statement uttered by Pope Francis, in on his visit to the detainees, penitentiary staff and their families on back in 2014. This statement had helped to motivate the majority of the faith leaders and advocates of a humane approach to the criminal justice system of California to push for the AB 2590 Sentencing: Restorative Justice Bill, an act to amend Section 1170 of the Penal Code, relating to sentencing. This bill, which was authored by Shirley Weber, aims to redefine the purpose of sentencing in the State of California, from mere punishment sentencing is public safety achieved through punishment, rehabilitation, and restorative justice2.
Currently, the sentencing of offenders equates to punishment, which is based on a triad term of imprisonment in the state prison and it consists of low, middle, high which identify the length of the term to be locked up behind bars. This current law is effective until January 1, 2017, in which the so called “punishment” rests in the hands of the presiding court2. The amendment of the current law being carried out in the California criminal justice system can change the approach on how to help the offenders to be better individuals when they return back to the society. The AB 2590 aims to focus on repairing the harm done to the victims and the society itself, through the offenders’ chance to rehabilitate the harm they have caused and take responsibility for the offense done by being part of community programs or other more appropriate sentence that the court would see fit. This bill ultimately gives the flexibility for the deciding court in sentencing, which state program would help the offender restore what he has done. This way, it is aiming to remove the punishment in the penal code, instead, to replace it with education and rehabilitation.
Although the bill’s approval is still resting today in the hands of Jerry Brown, the current State of California Governor and his senate team, there are some state prisons who have adopted the restorative justice principles. The Ione California Mule Creek State Prison is a state prison located on Highway 104, Ione, CA, has adopted the rehabilitation principles, which is in-line with their vision to provide “Safer community through excellence in a prison service built on respect for human dignity”3. The inmates of The Mule Creek State Prison are encouraged to be members of certain organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Criminal and Gang-Member Anonymous and the like, to help them rehabilitate themselves to a better individual. The principle has given the opportunity to the inmates to rebuild their lives again and a handful of inmates has been renewed to be able to change of perspectives, behaviors, and purpose through study and work for their future.
Citizens of today have been advocating to give these offenders the chance to do something positive in their lives, and this is possible if we provide proper handling, support, and education. It is the opportunity to restore themselves to be a better contributor to the state, and this can only happen if the State of California gives the second chance to renew, and cease the “punish the offender approach”. This is believed to be affecting the victims, offenders and the entire community with a positive, long lasting benefit through restoration.