Among the many flaws of our justice system, the unfair sentencing of prisoners is often overlooked. It's a question of, “Does the punishment fit the crime?” and often, it doesn’t. Instead, the punishment results in extreme sentencing. Our guest this week, Adnan Khan, explains how extreme sentencing happened to him. Khan joins Xander to discuss his experiences as a troubled youth serving time and how a new California Felony Murder Bill set him free in 2019 after 16 years.
Adnan starts by explaining that his passion for bringing awareness to extreme sentencing is for all, which is why he avoids terms like "low-level offenses." He believes it separates the advocacy efforts. "There is no distinction when talking about justice and reframing what justice looks like." He says it "reinforces the idea that there is a deserving population and there's a non-deserving one, [and] that narrative in itself is harmful."
Khan believes in removing prisons altogether and urges that we make sure we aren't against one another while we advocate for one population. He also encourages progressives and advocates to not solely focus on the Norway prison system as a goal but to look deeper at root issues. "You cannot make a prison like Norway in America and not include systematic racism, not have the conversation of white supremacy and white supremacist institutions because that's what it's built on." Khan says, "Norway's prisons aren't built on that."
Adnan shares his the complicated journey that led him to prison, which began as a homeless, parentless teen. He was involved in a robbery where one of the assailants murdered someone. Because of the laws at the time, Adnan was considered guilty as the perpetrator of the murder and sentenced to life at 18 years old. He stresses his accountability and remorse, which he had to come to on his own, expressing how prisons don't hold people accountable nor create space for rehabilitation. Instead, there is only more violence, drugs, and trauma.
Adnan explains that among the many issues with American prisons is the belief that the longer the sentence, the better, which leads to mandatory minimums. With mandatory minimums, the judge and DA must give a particular crime a specific sentence time no matter the circumstances.
It wouldn't be until Khan was sent to San Quinton prison that he found more resources for help in the form of outside activists and fellow prisoners, sparking Re:Store Justice. "It was the people that were coming into the facility that allowed for this possibility to happen."
The long process of passing a bill takes 2-3 years, he explains, "It goes through the public safety committee, appropriations committee, the floor votes, then it goes to the other side." He said he keeps his expectations low because the bill can die at any point during this process.
Fortunately, with the help of Democratic Senator Nancy Skinner, Senate Bill 1437 passed in August 2018. His release happened suddenly and surprisingly. "I ended up being the first person re-sentenced under the new bill that we created from inside the prison." He says. Kahn continues his work to help others to abolish extreme sentencing.
"There's no data proven that [prison] creates a safer society." He's working now to introduce a new bill to end or reduce gun enhancement laws that bump up a sentence if you have a gun or someone in possession of a weapon during a crime. Kahn states that a person can commit a '3-year crime' but end up with 25 to life with gun enhancement and that "Over 80% of the people who get gun enhancement are black, brown, [or] poor." Kahn expresses his excitement for the new bill, though apprehensive about being too hopeful; however, regardless, he believes, "A bill can fail, but we established and strengthened community."
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