New ballot initiative: The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012

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INTERACTIONS

A new ballot initiative, painstakingly written by a pair of Stanford University law professors, seeks to reform the Three Strikes Law in California by restoring it to its original intent, which supporters argue was to keep truly dangerous criminals like murderers and rapists in prison for life without forcing non-violent offenders to spend years behind bars.

businessinsider.com

The Three Strikes law was enacted in California in the mid-1990s at the height of strong public reaction to the brutal murder of two girls. It created a system of much harsher sentences– including life sentences– for third time offenders, even if their crimes were non-violent misdemeanors. The result over a decade later is a California prison system overcrowded to the point of crisis. Meanwhile, the inconsistencies allowed by the law have resulted in mind-boggling sentencing disparities. Take the case of this California man:

“In 1995, just one year after Californians enacted the Three Strikes policy, a man named Curtis stole a $2.50 pair of socks. Because he had been convicted of abetting two robberies in 1981 as a 19-year-old, his most recent crime was ‘strike three.’ Curtis was given a life sentence.”

While Curtis got a life sentence for ultimately stealing a pair of socks, the criminal justice system in California gave a different punishment to a man named John who committed a different crime. After sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl in 2000, John Gardner received only six years in prison, and served only five of them before being released on parole. This despite a 2000 probation report containing this conclusion from a psychiatrist: that John Gardner had “significant predatory traits toward underage girls and should be kept in prison for as long as possible.” After his release, Gardner would rape and murder two more underage girls. The system had failed to keep them safe.

Under the status quo, justice and public safety have apparently been turned on their head. The system is often too harsh on those who don’t deserve it and pose no threat to society, while at the same time being too lenient toward violent offenders who pose a serious and predictable threat to the rest of society and have already committed horrific crimes. It is this inversion of justice that the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (full text here) seeks to remedy. Its authors say it will 1) require murderers, rapists, and child molesters to serve life sentences; 2) require life sentences only when an offender’s current conviction is a violent or serious crime; 3) give repeat offenders of misdemeanors like shoplifting twice the normal sentence instead of life; 4) save millions of taxpayer dollars; and 5) prioritize the early release of non-violent criminals over violent ones when necessary to relieve overcrowding.

Depending on how Californians feel about the initiative’s specific details, there’s a good chance they will be receptive to it. One poll earlier this year found a whopping “74% of all voters want Three Strikes revised so it is less draconian, with more leeway in sentencing allowed, which would leave prisons less crowded.”

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  1. Roseelisegray We need to stop paying to support non-violent criminals in our prisons while the dangerous individuals walk the streets due to "lack of space."
  2. dc i always thought that you receive a strike per case not per charge. why is a strike given for non-violent offense anyway. i've seen people strike out with one case. two of the charges were non-violent!
  3. Marilyn Other states benefit from sentencing commissions, why not California? Follow the money through the criminal justice and massive incarceration systems to learn why we spend more on prisons than on education.
  4. Guest US law is ABSOLUTELY CRAZY: In California, you can get lifetime imprisonment for stealing a pizza or non-violent drug offenses, so that prisons are overcrowded with non-violent people (the money should be invested in healthcare, social systems, and eduucation), and in Florida, the "Stand-Your-Ground Law" allows you to get away with murder, just by saying you felt threatened by your victim.  Since the introduction of that Law, number of killings has doubled. But everybody wants to have his own gun and can have it with no problems, and when a massacre happens, people pretend to be shocked, but just one week later, they have forgotten it completely and continue to buy--and use--guns and protest gun control. If you lose a beloved person--who cares? Remember,  IN THE US, A PIZZA IS MORE VALUABLE THAN A HUMAN LIFE.
  5. Star_alliance2011 I really enjoyed this article and I am happy that a ballot initiative to change the 3 strike method is going to be on the ballot because it is a totally messed up system. The problem is when we assign certain automatic sentencing punishments to criminals because there are way too many different degrees of crime. Thanks for this article and I will continue to look into and study this ballot initiative.
  6. Rich McKone There may be good reasons to change the "3-strikes" law but “3-strikes” is not the reason for prison overcrowding. California, like most states, has always had habitual criminal and dangerous offender laws. "3-Strikers" constitute only 5% of the prison population and 1% of the county jail population. A 65,000 county jail shortage, not “3- strikes”, is the reason for prison overcrowding. The jail shortage caused the shift of technical violators and wobblers from jails to prison where they now occupy over 48,000 expensive prison beds. Realignment will just return the minor offenders back to counties where they belong, saving about $1 billion in annual prison operating costs.  
  7. dnarby You make some points, but you are still engaging in the old "Changing the Subject" fallacy.  Fact is, some guy got life for STEALING A PAIR OF SOCKS.Changing The Subject (Digression, Red Herring, Misdirection, False Emphasis):this is sometimes used to avoid having to defend a claim, or to avoid making good on a promise. In general, there is something you are not supposed to notice.For example, I got a bill which had a big announcement about how some tax had gone up by 5%, and the costs would have to be passed on to me. But a quick calculation showed that the increased tax was only costing me a dime, while a different part of the the bill had silently gone up by $10. This is connected to various diversionary tactics, which may be obstructive, obtuse, or needling. For example, if you quibble about the meaning of some word a person used, they may be quite happy about being corrected, since that means they've derailed you, or changed the subject. They may pick nits in your wording, perhaps asking you to define "is". They may deliberately misunderstand you: "You said this happened five years before Hitler came to power. Why are you so fascinated with Hitler ? Are you anti-Semitic ?"It is also connected to various rhetorical tricks, such as announcing that there cannot be a question period because the speaker must leave. (But then he doesn't leave.)
  8. Anonymous http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwGFalTRHDA    Right back at ya baby!!
  9. Anonymous Cooley's office doesn't do that.  If they steal a pair of socks, they don't get a third strike in LA County.  The judges strike a strike or the prosecutor seeks a lesser charge.  In LA County, only serious and violent crimes get a third strike. Cooley has overcrowded the prisons so much that the system is emploding and low level offenders are felonized with no ability to reform or get a job.  I won't hire a felon, will you?  Felon should mean scarry evil person, but under Cooley, he is bragging about his felony statistic.  If you are in a car with a friend who has marajuana, you will get a felony charge.  If you have a baseball bat in your backseat, that is a weapon and you will get a felony charge.  COOLEY HAS TO GO.  Discretion needs to be restored not wasted money on a new law.  The LA DA is wasted and that is the problem!
  10. dnarby Perhaps, but what on Earth does that have to do with giving someone LIFE IN PRISON FOR STEALING A PAIR OF SOCKS?!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwGFalTRHDA
12 comments
Roseelisegray
Roseelisegray

We need to stop paying to support non-violent criminals in our prisons while the dangerous individuals walk the streets due to "lack of space."

dc
dc

i always thought that you receive a strike per case not per charge. why is a strike given for non-violent offense anyway. i've seen people strike out with one case. two of the charges were non-violent!

Marilyn
Marilyn

Other states benefit from sentencing commissions, why not California? 

Follow the money through the criminal justice and massive incarceration systems to learn why we spend more on prisons than on education.

Guest
Guest

US law is ABSOLUTELY CRAZY: In California, you can get lifetime imprisonment for stealing a pizza or non-violent drug offenses, so that prisons are overcrowded with non-violent people (the money should be invested in healthcare, social systems, and eduucation), and in Florida, the "Stand-Your-Ground Law" allows you to get away with murder, just by saying you felt threatened by your victim.  Since the introduction of that Law, number of killings has doubled. But everybody wants to have his own gun and can have it with no problems, and when a massacre happens, people pretend to be shocked, but just one week later, they have forgotten it completely and continue to buy--and use--guns and protest gun control. If you lose a beloved person--who cares? Remember,  IN THE US, A PIZZA IS MORE VALUABLE THAN A HUMAN LIFE.

Star_alliance2011
Star_alliance2011

I really enjoyed this article and I am happy that a ballot initiative to change the 3 strike method is going to be on the ballot because it is a totally messed up system. The problem is when we assign certain automatic sentencing punishments to criminals because there are way too many different degrees of crime. Thanks for this article and I will continue to look into and study this ballot initiative.

Rich McKone
Rich McKone

There may be good reasons to change the "3-strikes" law but “3-strikes” is not the reason for prison overcrowding. California, like most states, has always had habitual criminal and dangerous offender laws. "3-Strikers" constitute only 5% of the prison population and 1% of the county jail population. A 65,000 county jail shortage, not “3- strikes”, is the reason for prison overcrowding. The jail shortage caused the shift of technical violators and wobblers from jails to prison where they now occupy over 48,000 expensive prison beds. Realignment will just return the minor offenders back to counties where they belong, saving about $1 billion in annual prison operating costs.

 

dnarby
dnarby

You make some points, but you are still engaging in the old "Changing the Subject" fallacy.  Fact is, some guy got life for STEALING A PAIR OF SOCKS.

Changing The Subject (Digression, Red Herring, Misdirection, False Emphasis):

this is sometimes used to avoid having to defend a claim, or to avoid

making good on a promise. In general, there is something you are not

supposed to notice.For example, I got a bill which had a big announcement about how

some tax had gone up by 5%, and the costs would have to be passed on

to me. But a quick calculation showed that the increased tax was only

costing me a dime, while a different part of the the bill had silently

gone up by $10. This is connected to various diversionary tactics, which may be

obstructive, obtuse, or needling. For

example, if you quibble about the meaning of some word a person used,

they may be quite happy about being corrected, since that means

they've derailed you, or changed the subject. They may pick nits in

your wording, perhaps asking you to define "is". They may

deliberately misunderstand you: "You said this happened five years before Hitler came to power. Why

are you so fascinated with Hitler ? Are you anti-Semitic ?"

It is also connected to various rhetorical tricks, such as

announcing that there cannot be a question period because the speaker

must leave. (But then he doesn't leave.)

Trevor Polischuk
Trevor Polischuk

Mandatory minimums that take away discretion from judges is a terrible development in our judicial system. We must defer to the relevant facts in a case and the judges willingness to consider different punishments for different crimes. One size fits all mandates have had a terrible effect here in California and across the country.

Onlooker from Troy
Onlooker from Troy

Another problem with 3 Strikes is the unintended consequence that makes a criminal with 2 strikes more likely to kill any witnesses in a third crime because they're already facing life, so why not get rid of a witness to enhance their chances of not getting caught.  And similar situations that follow from this flawed law.

mmetzner
mmetzner

This article points out a major problem with mandatory sentencing. When judges are required to impose a sentence that was established in response to a highly-publicized crime we should anticipate problems. Readers should also understand that life sentences does not mean the perpetrator will spend the rest of their life in prison. CA should address its recidivism/rehabilitation problem instead of its sentencing if it wants to see progress in prison reform. The proposal also includes longer sentencing for multiple misdemeanors which will create the same problem with less severe crimes. 

Bhartich
Bhartich

Wow.  This is very interesting.  I had no idea that a man could be given a life sentence for stealing shoes.  I will need to do more research, but as of now this new ballot initiative sounds like a great idea!

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