Prior to this newly-enacted law, in California the maximum term of probation to which a judge could sentence a defendant was five years for felony offenses and three years for the vast majority of misdemeanor offenses. (That said, more serious misdemeanor-level offenses such as child abuse and repeat-offender DUIs were eligible for lengthened probationary periods of up to five years).
Despite concerns that any reduction in the time the criminal justice system has supervise and rehabilitate offenders might detrimentally impact an offender's rehabilitation, the legislature passed, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1950, which effectively caps misdemeanor probation at a length of one year, and felony probation at a length of two years. The reason for the change revolves around studies that have shown that probation often disproportionately affect people of color. For example, the authors of the bill cite the fact that Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. adult population, but 30% of people who are serving a probationary sentence. Further, the "probation monitoring fees" are often an increased burden on low-income families.
A 2018 Justice Center of the Council of State Governments study found that a large portion of people violate probation and end up incarcerated as a result. The study revealed that 20 percent of prison admissions in California are the result of probation violations, accounting for the estimated $2 billion spent annually by the state to incarcerate people for supervision violations. Eight percent of people incarcerated in a California prison are behind bars for probation violations. Close to half of those violations are technical and minor in nature, such as missing a drug rehab appointment or socializing with a friend who has a criminal record. And yet despite the fact that these technical violations (non-crimes) do not threaten our communities, they cost taxpayers at least $235 million per year."
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