When Gov. Jerry Brown’s final term in office ends next week, he will leave behind a California criminal justice system infused with a new commitment to second chances, a shift away from an era in which tens of thousands — many poor, most black or Latino — were imprisoned with little opportunity to turn their lives around.
“It’s called hope,” Brown said in a late December interview. “One hundred fifty thousand young men with zero hope bolsters the gangs, leads to despair, leads to violence and makes the prisons very dangerous. Many of them, the majority, will get out anyway. And they’ll get out as very wounded human beings.”
The governor’s attempt to unwind the old approach stands in contrast to his legacy from the 1970s. Despite a professed belief in redemption, no governor did more to launch the state’s tough-on-crime era — signing a seminal law four decades ago that paved the way for strict sentences, even for nonviolent crimes.