There is real merit in Senate President Pro Tem
Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, would also create a sentencing commission, a long-awaited step that lawmakers have resisted until now because it might curb their ability to pass tough-on-crime bills one at a time to grab headlines and curry favor with law enforcement groups. Other states have brought rationality, proportionality and efficiency to their sentencing processes by relying on commissions. It is well past time for California to follow suit.
The most apparent problem with Steinberg's proposal is that it rests on the seemingly absurd notion that the federal court that has ordered a reduction in the state prison population would now consider postponing its Dec. 31 deadline, after the state has dragged its feet on sustainable reduction efforts and after courts have rejected previous bids for stays and delays. Even when the state has had good plans for creating a smarter, more just and more efficient criminal justice system — plans like those Steinberg presented Wednesday — it has never seemed to muster the will to follow through until it faced a hard, unyielding deadline. The courts' insistence on a prison population that represents 137.5% of design capacity or lower by the end of the year has finally gotten state officials, including Steinberg, to move, and judges have good reason to be skeptical of new promises to act in the absence of a looming drop-dead date.
But plaintiffs in the Coleman and Plata prison overcrowding cases, which produced the reduction orders, have said they are open to discussing an extension based on Steinberg's other proposals. California would benefit from such talks.