Hip hop recording artist, actor, film producer and poet Common this week added his voice to the campaign to reform California’s juvenile justice system by performing in the Imagine Justice concert at the Capitol Mall on Monday, as well as meeting with legislators and youth the following day.
Common joins youth advocates, criminal justice groups and current and former law enforcement and corrections officials to support the passage of Senate Bills 394 and 395, two bills in the #EquityAndJustice package authored by Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). He also spoke in support of SB10 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, which Sens. Lara and Mitchell are also joint authoring. “There is a rich legacy of African American entertainers who’ve lent their voices and resources to the fight for social justice: Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kit, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and, of course, Paul Roberson were stalwarts in the fight for civil rights and racial equality,” said Mitchell, who also urged people to listen to the children’s stories with an open mind and heart and to remember the role entertainers can play in helping bring about social change. “Common and the new generation of ‘woke’ entertainers are speaking up and out on behalf of men and women of color who are disproportionately represented in a criminal justice system that is simply UN-just and UN-equal. I applaud their efforts.”
“Harsh punishment and false confessions breed hopelessness and represent a failure of our justice system,” Lara said. “Senate Bills 394 and 395 are common sense reforms that will invest in young people’s recovery not their incarceration. I hope hearing from Common and the stories of young people who are overcoming huge odds inspire legislators to share our dream of equity and justice and vote yes on Senate Bill 394 and 395 in the Assembly.”
SB 394 would bring California into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court Montgomery v. Louisiana decision that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole — by allowing those currently sentenced to be eligible for parole hearings after 25 years of incarceration. The U.S. is the only country in the world that imposes life without parole on people under 18, and California leads the nation in people sentenced to this unconstitutional and harmful punishment.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions aren’t optional,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in support of SB 394. SB 395 would update Miranda rights for youth by requiring those under the age of 18 to consult with legal counsel before they waive their constitutional rights in interrogations with police. Research has shown that young people are much more likely to confess to crimes they did not commit, and SB 395 will help prevent false confessions and improper convictions that can result.
SBs 394 and 395 were both passed by the California Senate and await votes by the California Assembly before they can go to Gov. Brown for consideration.
SB 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017, aims to replace a pretrial process that often forces people of modest means to remain in jail until a court can determine their innocence or guilt but allows the wealthy to go free. SB 10 would safely reduce the number of people being held in jail awaiting trial and ensure that those who are not a threat to public safety or at risk of fleeing are not held simply for their inability to afford bail. The bill would require, except when a person is arrested for specified violent felonies, that a pretrial services agency conduct a risk assessment and prepare a report that makes recommendations on conditions of release for the person pretrial. The legislation has been endorsed by more than 100 different organizations and the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and Mercury News. Sen. Hertzberg and Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) explained their proposal in an op-ed published in May in the Los Angeles Daily News. SB 10 is awaiting review by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.