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Can we make it easier for prosecutors to re-sentence people in prison?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, California led the way in ramping up mass incarceration and passing punitive laws such as three-strikes and truth-in-sentencing. These policies had adverse consequences, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. States across the country emulated California’s tough-on-crime tactics. Now, California can again take the lead, but this time set the agenda for a smarter and more equitable system. To enable meaningful and effective reform, Possibility Lab, California 100, and For the People have partnered with District Attorneys’ offices across the state to pilot technology-driven pathways to increase efficient and unbiased sentencing and resentencing, including pathways towards diversion, discharge, and effective identification of low-risk and high-risk cases.

Alongside 12 of the 58 District Attorney Offices (DAOs) throughout the state, we are testing a case file summary automation process for prosecutorial-led resentencing. This process currently involves approximately eight hours of combing through photocopied documents to extract key pieces of information, in order to initiate the process for prosecutors to consider resentencing incarcerated individuals. Together, we are developing code that will extract required elements for the case review summary while manually verifying that the extraction process closely replicates the original manual process.

The potential role that case review summary automation could have in reducing the state’s prison population is profound. In June of 2018, there were nearly 72,000 individuals incarcerated in California state prisons that were sentenced in one of these twelve counties. In Los Angeles County alone, where District Attorney George Gascón established a resentencing unit in which those incarcerated for 15 years or longer would be considered for review, there are 9,364individuals who may be actively eligible for resentencing. This constitutes approximately 32% of the incarcerated individuals who were sentenced by the Los Angeles DAO. As of November 2021, there were 156,462 individuals incarcerated in a California prison, meaning that from LA alone, at least 6% could be considered for release.

This project was made possible with funding from California 100.