San Francisco officials launched the city’s Sentencing Commission with the panel’s inaugural meeting today (Wednesday, August 8).
District Attorney George Gascón (seen at left) and other commissioners outlined the goals of the group, which aims to foster an “effective, fair, and efficient sentencing system for San Francisco that enhances public safety and creates a livable San Francisco,” according to a statement from Gascón’s office.
Over the next two years, the commission will evaluate effective, appropriate sentences for the most violent offenders, explore opportunities for drug law reform, and define the most important factors that reduce recidivism, Gascón’s staff said.
Gascón spearheaded the ordinance behind the commission in partnership with out gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, Supervisor Malia Cohen, and Adult Probation Department Chief Wendy Still. The effort comes in response to realignment, a state law that took effect in October 2011 and puts counties, rather than state prisons, in charge of the majority of criminal offenders.
Besides Gascón and Still, other commission members are Public Health Director Barbara Garcia, an out lesbian; Karen Roye, Department of Child Support Services; Minouche Kandel, Bay Area Legal Aid; Catherine McCracken, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice; Theshia Naidoo, Drug Policy Alliance; Steven Rafael, an academic researcher; Public Defender Jeff Adachi; Juvenile Probation Chief Bill Sifferman; Sheriff Vickie Hennessy; Police Chief Greg Suhr; and a superior court representative.
In a brief phone call Wednesday, Wiener said, “I’m looking forward to the recommendations from the commissionabout how we can have the right kind of approach to sentencing and incarceration. Now that we have realignment, we have to be really smart about how we use our jails, and make sure the people who need to be in jail are in jail,” without “overcrowding our jails.”
Gascón stated, “I see this body proposing real change to Sacramento and implementing changes in our own local practices within the latitude of current law. We must rise to the challenge; take on the serious policy changes that are needed to do our job effectively.”
He highlighted local use of criminal justice strategies “that result in focusing resources on the most violent offenders,” among other outcomes. Gascón also said that San Francisco’s jail populations “are at the lowest population in decades, while other county jails are overflowing.”
With initiatives set for the November ballot that would alter the state’s three strikes law and replace the death penalty, Gascón called it “a critical time” for reform.
The commission is supposed to meet at least three times a year. The next meeting date hasn’t been announced.