can no longer afford their emotional overreaction to the high crime rates of
the 1990s. It's past time to revise the state's 17-year-old Three Strikes Law
and take a more nuanced approach to dealing with repeat felons.
University's Three Strikes Project, led by law professor Michael Romano, is
drafting an initiative and hopes to collect the 500,000 signatures needed to
place it on the November 2012 ballot. We'll have to see the final details, but
the project's aim to apply the law to only serious or violent third offenders
is on target. This would not only save money now wasted on incarcerating aging
criminals but also would steer the law closer to what we believe voters
intended back in 1994.
calls California's law the harshest sentencing tool in the United States.
Passed in the wake of Richard Allen Davis' brutal kidnapping and murder of
12-year-old Polly Klaas, it was sold as the way to permanently lock up violent,
repeat offenders and make our communities safe. Unfortunately, it has been used
by some district attorneys to give life sentences to about 4,000 inmates who
committed nonviolent crimes. Nearly 9,000 prisoners in California have life
sentences under the Three Strikes Law.
cost to taxpayers has been staggering. A 2010 state report put the total cost
of applying the Three Strikes Law at nearly $20 billion, or roughly $35,000 a
year per inmate. Those costs will only increase as the prison population ages
and skyrocketing health care costs add to the total.
didn't bother planning for enough prison beds when they passed the Three
Strikes Law, so when the state began locking people up at record rates, the
population grew to about 150,000 -- more than double the system's capacity. The
California Supreme Court ruled in May that this overcrowding constitutes cruel
and unusual punishment. It has ordered California to release up to 33,000
state shouldn't even think about freeing violent offenders. It should focus on
inmates convicted of drug offenses and lesser crimes. But under the current
law, it's not possible to release any of the nonviolent Three Strikes inmates
sentenced to life.
had their chance to fix the Three Strikes Law in 2004, but scare tactics by
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some hard-core prosecutors caused voters to
reject a reform proposition by a small margin.
sensible prosecutors decided years ago that they would only apply Three Strikes
to violent offenders. But others, especially in conservative, rural counties,
still relish applying the law whenever possible. A third strike could be a drug
abuse violation at age 50, when violent tendencies are long past and massive
health care costs loom.
states -- including New York -- have lowered their crime rates without
draconian sentencing laws. California can, too, and must: As the state faces a
$13 billion budget shortfall that could devastate education and health and
human service programs, unnecessary spending on incarceration is nothing less
than fiscal mismanagement. We hope the Three Strikes Project's initiative can
move us back toward sanity.