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Sentence Enhancements in California

REPORT: Sentence Enhancements in California PDF

PRESS RELEASE: New Research Provides In-Depth Look at Sentence Enhancements in California

Sentence enhancements are used to add time to an individual’s base sentence. California uses over 100 unique enhancements. This report analyzes data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to understand the role of sentence enhancements in California’s corrections system. It finds that enhancements lengthen average sentences and are more likely to impact the sentences of men and Black and American Indian people who are sentenced to prison, vary by county, and contribute to the overall size of the state prison population. 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.

Select Media Coverage

East Bay Times: Livermore Police Chief Pushes Alameda County DA for Tougher Penalties (July 24, 2023)

Davis Vanguard: California Policy Lab Reports Key Findings in Analysis of California’s Sentence Enhancements (March 28, 2023)

Capital Public Radio: Capital Public Radio interview with Steve Raphael on Sentence Enhancements (March 24, 2023)


Key Research Findings

1. Of all admissions to prison since 2015, 41% (96,795 admissions) included at least one enhancement. Of people incarcerated as of July 2022, 68% (66,550 people) have at least one sentence enhancement on their current sentence and 41% of people have sentences with two or more enhancements.

2. Four enhancement types account for roughly 80% of sentence years added since 2015, including: the state’s Three- Strikes law, firearm enhancements, one and five-year prior enhancements, and gang enhancements.

3. Enhancement reforms enacted by the legislature since 2018 have curtailed the frequency with which enhancements have been applied to prison terms. This can be seen both in overall trends, as well as in analysis of specific reforms. There was also a large drop in admissions with enhancements coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and the varied policy responses to reduce the incarcerated population, it is possible some of the declines are also pandemic-related.

4. While many cases involve multiple enhancements, a large portion of sentences only include a single enhancement. The doubled-sentence enhancement (Second Strike) is the most common single enhancement for individuals who only receive a single enhancement on their sentence. For the most part, individuals who receive multiple enhancements have a doubled-sentence enhancement (Second Strike) plus another enhancement.

5. Enhancements are applied unevenly across California counties, with the lowest application rates in Bay Area counties and Southern California coastal counties, and the highest rates among far Northern counties, the counties in the Central Valley, and Inland Empire counties.


Suggested citation: Bird, M., Gill, O., Lacoe, J., Pickard, M., Raphael, S., Skog, A. (2023). Sentence Enhancements in California. California Policy Lab.

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