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Sentencing panel is no answer
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Prison reform and healthcare for prisoners have been a focus in the Legislature for the past two years. This year the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 900 (Solorio) in an attempt to address some of the prison reform needs. I agree that we need to expand our existing facilities or build new facilities to create additional bed space, but there are many components of this bill and other prison reform ideas that I cannot support.

One terrible idea that has resurfaced this year is to create a "California Sentencing Commission." We fought hard and we were able to kill two soft-on-crime bills: Assembly Bill 160 (Lieber) and Senate Bill 110 (Romero), both of which would have established sentencing commissions.

The proponents of sentencing commissions claim that some criminal sentence periods could be extended, however what they forget to mention is that many of these sentences could and will be reduced. I simply can not support a measure that puts the lives of innocent, law-abiding Californians at the hands of these criminals. If these criminals were given a sentence period, that person should have to serve the entire time for their crime.

As these bills came up in the Legislature this year, the authors of these bills struggled to find groups who would support AB 160 or SB 110. In fact many of these groups opposed these bills that would have established the commission. If that doesn't tell you how wrong this idea is, then look to the victims and their families. It is highly likely and predictable that violent criminals who get out of prison early because their sentence was reduced will strike again. They are likely to go on to assault, rape or murder another individual. The thought of these convicted felons walking our streets before their time is served is a nightmare.

Make no mistake. Our prisons are overcrowded. Prisons are filled to capacity because individuals are breaking the law and we have not built enough new prisons as our population has grown, not because we have good laws like the "Three Strikes Law" on the books to protect law-abiding citizens. Don't punish a good system that keeps these and other violent criminals off our streets. Punish the criminals who commit these crimes and do harm to others.

Not to sound like a broken record, but I will continue to advocate that the State must rid itself of the San Quentin State Prison. It is a crumbling money pit, but the land is worth billions if the property were to be sold. These dollars could be used to help expand existing prisons or build new state of the art prisons elsewhere that would keep these criminals behind bars. We should not be putting any more dollars in maintaining our oldest state prison.

A sentencing commission is not the way to approach California's prison crisis. First and foremost, we must put the safety of law-abiding citizens first. If someone does the crime, they need to do the time. California must find the room and expand its bed space in order to resolve this crisis.

Senator Jeff Denham (R-Merced) represents the counties of Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito and Stanislaus.