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New Research Shows How Consecutive Sentencing is Applied to California Criminal Sentences

Berkeley, CA, February 15, 2024 — A comprehensive new report released today by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab (CPL) focuses on the application of consecutive sentencing for criminal sentences in California. Consecutive sentencing refers to the practice of prison sentences for separate convictions being served sequentially, rather than concurrently, which makes the overall sentence longer. Consecutive sentencing can only be applied to admissions with multiple convictions (which make up 45% of all sentences).

The research team found that of prison admissions since 2015 with multiple convictions, half (51%) have consecutive sentences. Consecutive sentencing increases the average sentence length for admissions subjected to consecutive sentencing by three years (from 8.6 to 11.6 years). The impact on the overall average prison sentence however is smaller (8.5 months), given that consecutive sentences apply to only 22% of prison admissions.

The new report shows how frequently consecutive sentencing is applied, what factors contribute to a consecutive sentence being applied, the impact it has on sentence length, and how application of consecutive sentencing varies across California counties.

“Prison sentences in California are complex, involving legislatively prescribed base values, additional time for aspects of peoples’ criminal history, enhancement for specifics of the offenses, and in some instances consecutive sentencing,” explains co-author Steve Raphael, a public policy professor at UC Berkeley. “This is one of a series of reports where we unpack the elements of prison sentences in the state and the complex manner that these factors interact with one another to determine who goes to prison and for how long.”

Key Findings
● In total, consecutive sentences are applied to less than a quarter (22%) of prison admissions in California since 2015.
● Among cases with multiple convictions, consecutive sentences are more likely to be applied when criminal cases involve offenses that occurred in multiple counties, the offenses are serious or violent, the most serious offense is a crime against a person, or the individual has prior prison admissions for serious or violent crimes.
● People who are admitted with second and third-strike enhancements are much more likely to receive consecutive sentences (18 and 12 percentage points more likely, respectively) relative to admissions with multiple convictions without these enhancements.
● While consecutive sentencing appears to be applied at a higher rate for American Indian/Alaska Native individuals and White individuals, much of this can be attributed to a relative concentration of admissions for these individuals in counties that tend to apply consecutive sentencing more frequently. The opposite is also true for admissions of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and people in the “other race” category, as these admissions tend to be coming from counties that apply consecutive sentencing more sparingly.

Additional background
CPL conducted this study through a research partnership with the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, a state agency that studies and makes recommendations to improve California’s criminal legal system.

The report is part of a series focused on sentencing practices in the state. Past reports in this series analyze how the state’s Three Strikes law and the broader set of sentencing enhancements affect prison sentences in the state.

The data used in this report come from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The data include detailed information on all admissions to, and releases from, California prisons between 2015 and March 2023 as well as all previous prison admissions for everyone admitted to and/or released from a California prison since 2015.


The California Policy Lab generates research insights for government impact. Through hands-on partnerships with government agencies, CPL performs rigorous research across issue silos and builds the data infrastructure necessary to improve programs and policies that millions of Californians rely on every day.

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