It’s no secret that California’s prisons are unconstitutionally over-crowded. After a Supreme Court rebuke earlier this year, California must cut its prison population by 33,000 prisoners.
One contributing factor to the state’s booming prison population is the 17-year-old “three-strikes” law, passed in 1994 after a repeat offender kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas. A proposed revision to the policy could free non-violent offenders, keep defense attorneys busy, and create further strain on the state court dockets.
The three-strikes reform initiative would narrow the sentencing mandate to apply only to murderers, rapists and child molesters; violent offenders would serve full life sentences, even if the third crime was a "minor strike" offense. Low-level, non-violent offenders, by contrast, would not be sentenced under the three-strikes rule.
The revision would strain the state court budget because it would allow over 4,000 inmates to request new sentencing. While lawyers would certainly welcome the re-sentencing requests and accompanying fees, the state's courts are already suffering due to budget cuts. The impact on the budget, however, would be temporary: reform proponents believe that resentencing the nonviolent third-strikers currently serving time could save taxpayers $150 million to $200 million a year, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.
Californians previously tried to amend the three-strikes law in 2004 with Proposition 66. That ballot initiative failed because opponents characterized the initiative as a mass release of violent criminals. Dan Newman, a spokesman for the current three-strikes ballot initiative, said "Those criminals who committed heinous acts are singled out in the reform language to ensure they receive no benefit whatsoever," reports California Watch.
According to the California Department of Corrections, there are over 32,000 two-strike prisoners, and almost 9,000 three-strike prisoners, currently serving time in California state prisons.
- Law students help free three-strikes offenders (Los Angeles Times)
- Supreme Court Justice Kennedy on CA's Three Strikes Law (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Sentencing Repeat Offenders: "Three Strikes" Laws Lead to Injustice, But What Is the Best Alternative? (FindLaw)
- Voters Want "Three-Strikes" Reform, but Fate of Ballot Initiative Unclear (California Watch)