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Prop. 36 is a modest and necessary three-strikes reform

Proposition 36 is a balanced reform measure that promotes long-term public safety. The Proposition amends California's Three Strikes Law to:

~ Require that the 3rd strike be a violent or serious offense (except in certain sex, drug, and weapons possession cases)

~ Allow nonviolent 3rd strike inmates to petition the court for a resentencing hearing (unless they have a prior conviction for rape, murder, or child molestation)

The reform would bring California into line with the 26 other states that impose Three Strikes Laws.  Currently, California is the only state in which any felony offense can trigger the 3rd strike, and it has contributed significantly to California's prison overcrowding.  In fact, according to the Justice Policy Institute, "California "strikesout" 4 times as many persons as all other 3-strikes states combined."

In addition, California's Three Strikes Law is applied in drastically disparate ways within the state.  CJCJ's California Sentencing Institute (CASI) demonstrates how California's three-strikes prison population varies by countySan Francisco and Kern counties exemplify this trend, as the two counties have similar population and felony totals.  By 2011, San Francisco had accumulated 43 third-strike sentences, three-fourths were for violent offenses, and 9 of which were for property crimes (none for drugs).  In the same period, Kern had 10 times the rate of third-strikes, and of the 412 cases, fewer than half were violent offenses, and 83 were for simple drug possession.

Sentencing Californian residents to 25-years-to-life imprisonment for low-level offenses such as drug possession is unnecessary (and many would argue, inhumane), costly, and ineffective as a tool to enhance public safety. 

When three-strikes was first enacted, crime in California has already been declining, and continued to decline at rates that were no different from states without a three strikes law.  In fact, counties that use three-strikes the least (San Francisco, Contra Costa) experienced larger reductions in violent crime compared with counties that use it most (Kern, Sacramento), and saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year

CJCJ's Senior Research Fellow, Mike Males, estimated that a 3-strikes inmate will cost taxpayers $1.8 million over their lifetime (not including higher medical costs as the inmate becomes elderly).  These costs for low-level 3rd strikes are unwarranted.  San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascón recently explained that many low-level third strikes are "completely disconnected...years after the original strikes took place."  He expressed support for Proposition 36, alongside Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Proposition 36 is a modest reform, and a necessary one.  California's three strikes law has perpetuated a prison crisis by allowing low-level offenders to receive disproportionately long sentences that do not contribute to public safety.  The Proposition would refine the law only marginally to filter out low-level offenders, and target only the violent offenders it was designed for.  Having received wide public support it is set for the November 6 ballot vote.

Keywords: Proposition 36, Selena Teji, three strikes

Posted in Blog, Sentencing

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California Sentencing
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