By Pamela Price | Post News Group
Candidate for Alameda County District Attorney
In 2020, California took a huge step forward to reform our criminal justice system when the Legislature passed the Racial Justice Act (RJA).
The RJA was passed based on the undeniable racial disparities that are pervasive and pronounced in the criminal justice system.
It was a good start, but there needs to be a strong follow-up to be truly effective. Below, I describe the intended impact of the Act followed by my recommendations for the present and future.
First Step – 2020
The RJA works to eliminate:
- Intentional bias directed at the defendant by an attorney, judge, juror, law enforcement officer or expert witness.
- Racially coded language in court.
- Racial disparities in charges.
- Racial disparities in convictions.
- Racial disparities in sentences.
The RJA makes it illegal for a prosecutor to pursue a criminal conviction or a sentence based on an individual’s race, ethnicity or national origin.
The Court is required to (1) hold a RJA hearing in any case where the defendant exposes racial discrimination and (2) take appropriate action to address any case where there is a substantial likelihood that race discrimination infected the process.
The RJA also made major reforms to jury selection based on evidence of the pervasive exclusion of Black and Brown residents from juries by prosecutors.
My plan to implement the RJA will include close examination of the case files for current cases in order to identify and evaluate the presence of racial bias and develop an appropriate remedy considering the interests of the victims and any system-impacted people.
We will compile and review statistical data to analyze disparities that violate the RJA, assign appropriate staff to ensure enforcement and compliance with the Act and work collaboratively with other County and state offices to ensure its smooth implementation in Alameda County. We will also train deputies to follow the new rules imposed by the RJA in jury selection practices and assist the Court as needed.
Next Step – 2022
Systemic racism in our criminal justice system has devastated generations of working families and whole communities. In recognition of this impact, in 2022, the California Legislature passed the second RJA (AB256).
The new RJA makes the new law retroactive with a phased-in timeline for prisoners to apply for relief. Prisoners sentenced to death and people facing deportation will be eligible first, beginning Jan. 1, 2023. A death sentence must be vacated if the defendant was charged or convicted of a more serious offense based on race, ethnicity or national origin, and prosecutors in the county “more frequently sought or obtained convictions for more serious offenses” against people based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin.
Over the following three years, eligibility will expand to people incarcerated for felonies, people with recent convictions, and people with older convictions who are no longer incarcerated.
Responding to the volume of anticipated petitions will require my office to have a streamlined process to receive, track and adjudicate these petitions quickly.
We will assess the office’s current capacity to do so and maximize our capacity as quickly as possible. We will train deputies and staff on the fairest criteria to assess these petitions and propose and implement the resentencing that is mandated by the statute.
Civil rights attorney Pamela Price has successfully litigated cases of racial discrimination for more than 30 years, including winning a racial harassment case in the United States Supreme Court. The California Legislature has honored Attorney Price as a Social Justice Warrior and Woman of the Year for her advocacy against discrimination multiple times. When she is elected to serve as Alameda County District Attorney, she commits to root out the racial, gender and economic disparities in our criminal justice system and repair the harm caused by mass incarceration.
The post OPINION: D.A. Candidate Outlines Plan for Implementing California’s 2020 Racial Justice Act first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.