Sydney Kamlager is the assembly member for the 54th District, which includes Culver City. Her work has led to vital changes in California, and while citizens are attending important protest rallies, there are bills already coming up in Sacramento that need support if they are to pass. The need for ‘decarceration’ is critical to our political and economic health, in addition to the future of human rights in our state.
From Kamlager ” We are complicit if we leave this moment and don’t demand change. I started this year unaware of how critical my legislative package would be to the zeitgeist of this moment. A manageable load of 10 bills at the start of the legislative session shifted skeletal in response to COVID-19 and the impending budget challenges. I decided to focus on the few bills that address our most pressing need — systemic change. After the events of these past weeks, our collective goal should be to turn these bills into law and maintain a steady conversation about the difficult truths of inequality.
AB 1950 solves the problem with probation. This bill would cap misdemeanor probation at one year and some felonies at two years. Research shows that less is more in terms of probation. The longer someone is on probation, with all of the impediments, the more likely they will reoffend. Some California counties have reformed how they administer probation, but most still cling to a failed business model that produces failed outcomes. Those failed results are costly to our communities and our future. The system that we have in place is dysfunctional. It minimizes access to treatment and support while maximizing scrutiny and punishment. Change is required.
AB 1950 addresses probation through a different lens that focuses on four Ps:
Probation departments operate under the false premise that discomfort will lead to a better result. This bill stops conflating time with punishment and looks at how a system can encourage positive performance to generate a successful product: probationers (and communities) made whole. Two years does not seem like a long time for many people, but the length of time is less important than the quality of time. We connect restitution to punishment. Probation doesn’t enhance the collectability of fines and fees, but instead increases poverty. Probationers end up with extended probation terms because they are poor and they never will be able to pay the compounded fines and fees applied to their terms — revenue that ironically is used to fund the probation departments. We equate probation performance with showing up on time or staying out of a particular store, rather than by emotional reflection and maturation.
For too long, we have baked presumptions of failure into programs like probation because we don’t value the person on probation. We have decided that the person is their circumstance, especially if they are poor, immigrant, ethnic or not like us. This bill allows many people who have suffered setbacks to return to meaningful productivity. AB 1950 acknowledges that in order to work, probation must change. Probation must have a symbiotic relational design where both probation officer and probationer work toward the same goal.
AB 2054 looks outside to address the problem.
Interactions with police can be scary for people, including those with immigration status concerns, gender non-conforming communities, the mentally ill and those historically traumatized by law enforcement. This bill marshals an array of community organizations equipped to step in as first responders. They know how to de-escalate, resolve and solve. They have credibility within their communities and value the life, and circumstances of people who they are trying to help.
AB 2054 would establish the Community Response Initiative to Emergency Situations, the C.R.I.S.I.S. Act, to allow community members to be first responders. Addressing level 2 problems with level 10 force is flawed and often fatal. We need a different model to produce lifesaving outcomes.
These bills, along with my legislation to require bias training for law enforcement, are measured, researched and unapologetic in their intent to redesign broken systems. They also are being met with resistance by groups fixated on old failed methods.
We are complicit if we don’t demand change.
COVID-19 has been thrown on the back burner as the national dialogue shifts, once again, to the prevalence of police brutality. Police violence is both a symptom and the result of racist practices persisting in the soul of this country. It is not our only disease.
Mass incarceration, the courts, probation and parole are systems built on the presumption of failure. Safety net services, healthcare and housing supports are stingily dispersed based on the assumption of indolence. We are suffering from the weight of these broken systems. We are raging because we are exhausted.
Shifting away from the cause of George Floyd’s death to a response to protestors aims to let us off the hook of reckoning with the collective complacency that has allowed racist behavior to structure broken systems that thrive on subjugation. Condemning looting and rioting and militarizing cities are tone-deaf reactions that require little self-reflection. The killing of George Floyd is fueling the demand for change.
His murder was agonizing to watch and hellish to hear. I see family members and friends in the face of George Floyd and all of these innocents as they are killed. Sometimes, I see myself. After each video, I ask myself, who will be next? The young man walking in the park? The young woman laughing with her friends at the ice cream parlor? The kids in the car watching a rocket launch? These are young people I see every day. All Black lives. All in peril. #NotOneMore
Both bills will be presented next week on the Assembly for a floor vote. They will die if they are not passed off the floor. Please contact members of the California State Assembly and the State Senate and ask them to support these bills.
Please contact the Governor’s office and ask him to sign these bills.
Assembly member Sydney Kamlager-Dove