California’s approach to crime and punishment is complicated enough that a state watchdog agency once referred to it as a “chaotic labyrinth of laws with no cohesive philosophy or strategy.”
The penal code covers thousands of different offenses, each carrying three terms of varying lengths that may be applied depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Convictions for multiple charges can be served concurrently or consecutively, while hundreds of possible enhancements sometimes add more time to an inmate’s sentence than the underlying crime.
Lawmakers are moving to change that this month with Senate Bill 1279, which would largely limit the maximum term of imprisonment for felony convictions to twice the length of the base term. California adopted a similar cap in 1976, according to a legislative analysis, but it was ultimately repealed in 1997, after more and more exceptions were added to the law.