Reform ‘three strikes’

Proposition 36 will improve an unfair, costly and ineffective law

We’ve all heard the stories of the criminals sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison for stealing a loaf of bread or a pair of gloves. They were convicted under the state’s 18-year-old “three strikes and you’re out” law that gives judges the power to pass such sentences on offenders who commit a third crime, no matter how minor, if they have two serious or violent felony convictions on their records.

Proponents of the law say that it is the reason the crime rate is down in California. But is that so?

A 2011 report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice compared crime rates in counties where the law is vigorously used and those in which it is applied only when the third strike is a serious or violent felony. The law “has had no demonstrable effect on violent crime levels or trends,” the report concludes. “[C]ounties that vigorously enforced the … law did not experience declines in violent crime relative to counties that used the law sparingly.”

In fact, the two major counties that used the law most, Kern and Sacramento, had lesser reductions in violent-crime trends than Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, which rarely use the law.

Proposition 36 on the November ballot would reform the law and make it more equitable by requiring that the third strike be a serious or violent felony. It would allow an estimated 3,000 of the nearly 9,000 prisoners serving 25-to-life sentences to apply for resentencing hearings. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates the state could save from $70 million to $90 million annually in prison costs.

It’s pointless and inhumane—and unnecessarily costly—to sentence people to spend the rest of their lives in prison for minor offenses when doing so does nothing to lower the crime rate. Proposition 36 deserves to pass.