California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bills 2888 and 701 on Friday, which create mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of sex crimes.
The bills came in response to the outcry over Brock Turner’s lenient sentence. As I’ve argued previously, that outcry was largely justified—Turner did get a comparatively light prison sentence, though the fact that he has to register as a sex offender is no small thing.
But mandatory minimums are a terrible policy in general. Indeed, there’s a growing bipartisan consensus among policy experts and politicians on the right and the left that reforming mandatory minimum sentencing is something that needs to happen if the country is ever going to fix its costly and immoral mass incarceration problem.
The California bill flies in the face of this consensus. That’s not just my opinion: as Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes, even many leftist-feminists are vocally opposed to mandatory minimums for sex crimes because there’s no evidence they reduce crime.
In a letter explaining why he was signing the bill, Gov. Brown insisted that “as a general matter, I am opposed to adding more mandatory minimum sentences. Nevertheless, I am signing AB 2888, because I believe it brings a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar.”
The new law specifically prohibits judges from letting perpetrators get off with probation if they have been convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious or intoxicated person. While this may have produced a better outcome in the Turner case, forcing judges to send more people to prison is bad public policy. It will exacerbate all kinds of problems with the criminal justice system.