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AB 1104: Rehabilitation and Reentry Prep for Incarcerated People

New law emphasizes restorative justice and successful reintegration after release from prison

Post Staff Reporting, Alameda Post

On October 8, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1104, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Mia Bonta, into law. The new law, which goes into effect January 1, 2024, changes California’s penal code to make clear that the purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation and preparation for reentry, not levying additional punishment, the Assemblymember stated when the bill was introduced.

“AB 1104 emphasizes the importance of incarcerated individuals being afforded opportunities for restorative justice, trauma healing, education, and participation in community-based programming designed to assist in successful reintegration after release,” Assemblymember Bonta explained. “Simply put, the deprivation of liberty due to incarceration, in and of itself, satisfies the punishment aspect of sentencing, and the purpose of incarceration is to rehabilitate a person so they can be successfully reintegrated into the community.”

In 2016, the legislature directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to create a mission statement that moved away from punitive punishment and toward a more restorative justice approach. However, California’s Penal Code did not align with and had not been adjusted to reflect this momentous change in mission, value, and goals, Bonta said in a statement to constituents.

Additionally, she noted, the exiting Penal Code fails to reflect the importance or role of community-based programs in prisons. The California prison system requires a shift in culture to provide incarcerated people with the support and resources needed to reintegrate back into society. Community-Based Organizations are best positioned to provide these quality services to incarcerated people and decrease the chances of recidivism.

“This bill supports the California Model, which must include the full participation of community-based organizations in transforming the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” said Kenneth Hartman, Director of Advocacy for the Transformative In-Prison Workgroup, which sponsored the bill. “For too long, our prison system has said the right words but continued to adhere to outdated and ineffective punitive policies. It’s time to make changes on the ground that will advance safety and accountability for all of California. It’s time for our prisons to reflect our values in more than words.

California requires a significant paradigm shift in how we think about incarceration, rehabilitation, and re-entry services, Assemblymember Bonta explained. More than 95 percent of incarcerated people will be released back into the community.

“Californians want to hold people who cause harm accountable, but they also want them to have access to programs that will enable them to successfully reintegrate into society,” stated Jim Lindburg with the Friends Committee on Legislation of California. “By all accounts, our decades-old approach of warehousing people is a demonstrable failure with overcrowded prisons and high recidivism rates. With the signing of AB 1104, we begin to right this course.”

Upon learning that her bill was signed into law, Assemblymember Bonta said: “Currently, CBOs are funded at less than half of one percent of the entire CDCR budget and that is a missed opportunity. The significance of this bill in restructuring our Penal Code and uplifting the work Community-Based Organizations do in prisons is not lost on me. This year, having served as Chair of Budget Sub-5, I worked to increase opportunities for CBOs. I am confident this bill will help to continue to push the needle in that direction.”