In California, the Assembly is expected to vote on a bill that would allow primary caregivers of children 18 years of age and younger to avoid conviction. If it becomes law, instead of being sent to jail or prison for a misdemeanor or non-serious, non-violent felony offense, the parent would be ordered by the court to participate in a pre-trial diversion program.
Preventing Lifelong Consequences of a Conviction
Under the proposed bill, if a primary caregiver is charged with an offense, such as a drug crime or theft crime, a judge can decide to have them participate in various programs instead of issuing a judgment. Such programs could include anger management or parenting classes, mental health services, and/or drug treatment, among others.
After successfully completing the terms of the program, the case will be dismissed, and conviction penalties will be avoided. Typically, the punishments for an offense can lead to lasting collateral consequences that can affect the person charged, as well as their family, even after they have completed their sentence. A criminal record could make it challenging to get a job, find housing, or even qualify for some government assistance.
Bill Met with Support and Opposition
Although the bill was approved by the state Senate 30 to 2 and later by the Assembly Public Safety Committee 6 to 0, it has been met with both support and opposition. Those who favor the measure say it will help decrease the number of people sent to prison for certain crimes. Additionally, it will help keep families together if a parent commits an offense. Research has shown that incarceration can have a significant impact on an inmate’s children, resulting in psychological stress, anti-social behavior, and criminal activity.
However, those opposed to the bill say that it would allow individuals to avoid being held responsible for an offense because of their status as a parent. The bill also has some gaps that would make it challenging to adequately apply. For instance, it does not have a provision that requires judges to determine if an individual is actually a child’s primary caregiver.
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