San Diego Man Believed to be the First Californian to Get His Sentence Reduced Under AB 2942, Resulting in His Release
(San Diego, CA) – 57-year-old Kent Williams of San Diego is believed to be the first Californian to benefit from AB 2942, a new state law by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) which allows local prosecutors to review old cases for which the prison terms were unjustly harsh. If warranted, they can recommend a new reduced sentence to the sentencing judge who has the final say. This two-step process resulted in the release of Williams this summer after being incarcerated for nearly two decades.
“I’m grateful for the second chance,” said Williams. “I appreciate all the people who kept fighting for me. I’m ready to get a job, reconnect with family and friends, and watch my grandchildren grow up.”
Under California’s previous Three Strikes law, which has since been changed by voters, Williams received a 50 year-to-life sentence in 2003 for residential burglaries and car theft. He would not have been eligible to petition for parole until 2052. Williams would not have received the same sentence under today’s guidelines.
“I authored AB 2942 because there are many people like Mr. Williams who have been rehabilitated and paid their debt to society for their crimes, but are languishing in our prison system. Keeping them behind bars is no longer in the interest of justice,” said Ting. “I’m heartened to see how impactful criminal justice reform can be.”
After AB 2942 took effect January 1, 2019, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan agreed to review the Williams case, which led to his release in June. Prior to Ting’s bill, only the Board of Parole Hearings and the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could initiate and re-sentence a defendant.
“Proactively bringing this re-sentencing to a judge was the right thing to do in this case,” said DA Summer Stephan. “We reviewed the defendant's underlying conviction, disciplinary records, and record of rehabilitation while incarcerated. We also considered and assessed Mr. Williams’ risk for future violence. Ultimately, we believed that circumstances had changed since the defendant's original sentencing so we moved forward under the new law in the interest of justice.”
California houses nearly 129,000 inmates at a cost of $11 billion a year. The state also has the largest population of inmates in the country serving long-term sentences. While public safety remains a key priority, emerging research suggests past policies deserve a second look. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice, for instance, found that prison sentences could by shortened by 25% across the board without a negative effect on public safety.
“Mr. Williams' release shows what's possible when DAs are willing to reevaluate past sentences and acknowledge that people can change,” said Hillary Blout, Executive Director of For The People, a new organization that supports prosecutors in implementing the new law and reuniting people like Mr. Williams with their family.
Individuals seeking to have a sentence reviewed should contact the local district attorney’s office, which has the discretion to revisit cases. If any review results in a recommendation for a sentence reduction, it must be approved by a sentencing court.
Below are links to audio from today’s news conference:
Remarks from Assemblymember Ting at today’s news conference. (4:21)
Entire news conference, including remarks from San Diego DA Summer Stephan, former inmate Kent Williams and Hillary Blout, Executive Director of For The People. (41:58)