Signing of RISE Act a step in the right direction for drug offenders and for reduction of incarceration, say experts

Come January 2020, an enhancement that adds an additional year to someone’s new sentence for each of their past non-violent felony convictions for which they served time will cease to be in effect.


                            Signing of RISE Act a step in the right direction for drug offenders and for reduction of incarceration, say experts

A legislation is about to change the way sentence enhancement works for non-violent felony convictions. Come January 2020, an enhancement that adds an additional year to someone’s new sentence for each of their past non-violent felony convictions for which they served time will cease to be in effect. Called the RISE Act, it ensures that people do not get re-penalized for offenses that they have already served time for. Governor Gavin Newsom signed it last week.

This is considered a huge step in the right direction for drug offenses, in particular, said Jeannette Zanipatin, State Director of Drug Policy Alliance. The people with these past offenses, said Zanipatin, are likely a result of the tough stance on crime laws of the 80s and 90s and their sentences are already extremely disproportional to the offense. "Laws like the one RISE amends were put in place as a sort of social control—giving authorities an excuse to imprison black and brown people, who are already over-policed, longer—and have unjustifiably targeted these communities for far too long," she told MEA World Wide. 

The legislation, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), is expected to help reduce mass incarceration in the long run. "The majority of people that are serving time are not doing their first sentence, so they would be impacted by this. The system, for too long, has not been set up for people to succeed, which is why they end up reincarcerated over and over," she said.

The legislation will also help heal communities and families of non-violent offenders who are put away for longer. "When we consider the collateral consequences of extended incarceration—loss of jobs, children, housing, immigration status, health, familial support, etc.—it has a destabilizing effect on entire communities, which have been mainly low-income and minority as a result of over-policing," she said. 

As for short-term impact, we will see a decline in sentences and overall incarceration rates and families separated for non-violent offenses will begin to reunite. "It will also likely serve as a catalyst for the criminal justice system to introduce and rely more on new forms of intervention that don’t rely on incarceration," she said. 

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