Two of the biggest worries about California's recent Three Strikes reform, passed via an initiative last year, were the strain on the already-strapped court system budget and the possibility of rampant recidivism by releasing lifers into the community after years, or decades, in prison.
But 10 months after voters approved Proposition 36, one of those fears has, so far, not been realized, as our cities still stand, riots have not erupted, and the recidivism rate has been extremely low, according to the Stanford Three Strikes Project.
However, because of budget constraints, at least 2,000 eligible inmates are still waiting for their day in court.
Those eligible for relief under the revised Three Strikes law must have committed a nonviolent crime, such as drug possession, and must be able to demonstrate to a judge that they are not an "unreasonable risk of danger to public safety." Murderers, rapists, and child molesters, even if their third offense was nonviolent, need not apply.
According to Stanford's full progress report, since November 2012, more than 1,000 inmates have been released under Prop 36 following an individualized review. The program has already saved California between $10 million and $13 million, and could save as much as $1 billion over the next 10 years if all eligible imnates are released.
Most importantly, the recidivism rate of inmates released under Prop 36 is less than 2 percent, far less than the state average of 16 percent over a similar time period.
The budget. Thanks to budget shortfalls, 2,000 inmates' cases are waiting to be heard, including 800 in Los Angeles County alone. In addition, the same re-entry resources provided to all other inmates released from California prisons, such as job support, housing, and drug treatment, are not provided to Prop 36 inmates, who are often released "without warning, clothing, money for transportation, or notice to their families or attorneys."
This smarter, rather than tougher, approach to fighting crime seems to be working. With California's prisons at beyond critical mass, and Gov. Brown planning on paying other states to store our prisoners for us, any means of relief for the Golden State's overcrowded penal system needs to be looked it.
Here, we have a program that could lead to the release of as many as 2,000 inmates. The governor is considering shipping off 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state facilities. Expediting Prop 36 review hearings may not solve the entirety of the overcrowding problem, but it seems like a step in the right direction.
- L.A. District Attorney's Office Admits Prop. 36 Mistake Freed Northridge Killer (FindLaw's Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- Prop 36: Complicated Overhaul of the Three Strikes Law (FindLaw's Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- 9th Goes Against SCOTUS, Reverses Unfair 3 Strikes Sentence (FindLaw's U.S. Ninth Circuit Blog)