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Sunday, July 6, 2008

ESCAPING THE MYTH OF 'THREE STRIKES' STATE PRISON LAW

In 1994, Californians saw a state criminal justice system that too often let the worst criminals out of prison to wreak destruction and hurt the innocent, only to be sent back to prison for worse crimes.

Fresno parent Mike Reynolds had been pushing Sacramento to pass a "three strikes" measure after the murder of his 18-year-old daughter, Kimber, during a robbery in 1992. Then the rape and murder of Petaluma's 12-year-old Polly Klaas - kidnapped from her home by another violent career criminal - confirmed the voters' worst fears.

The public was ready. The Legislature was afraid. And both Sacramento and California voters passed tough "three strikes" measures.

This being California, there was a pro-criminal lobby that warned against the law, which mandated a 25-year-to-life term for the third offense by criminals who had already committed two serious or violent felonies. It also increased penalties for a second strike.

Longer sentences for career offenders? Horrors.

Critics duly seized on state Department of Corrections forecasts, which ominously predicted that within five years, the prison population would more than double, from 124,813 to 245,554. The state would have to build 20 new prisons just to keep up. Within three years, opponents charged, prison spending would outstrip state spending on higher education.

Almost 15 years later, it turns out many of the so-called experts were wrong - and the voters were right. In approving the tough-on-crime measure, California residents didn't have to pay for an inmate population explosion or a bunch of new prisons. What voters got instead was a law that, for the most part, has worked the way it was supposed to.

Fact: California's inmate count was 171,444 last year - far below the grim projections. In part because other prisons already were in the works by the time voters approved "three strikes," Sacramento authorized and completed not 20 new prisons in five years, but only one new prison in the past 14 years. And that happened while the state population grew from 33 million to 38 million. [Mark Godsey]

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Comments

Is it a myth that Rene Landa is serving 27 years to life for stealing a spare tire? Or a myth that his previous convictions were a burglary conviction nine years prior to stealing the tire and another burglarly conviction 13 years prior to that arrest?

Is it a myth that Johnny Quirino was sentenced to 25 years to life for petty theft of razor blades?

Is it a myth that Vincent Truel was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifting a pack of AA batteries? Is it a myth that Robert DiBlasi was sentenced to 31 years to life for shoplifting a pack of AA batteries?

Is it a myth that Nathan Thomas was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifitng a $33 pack of t-shirts?

Is it a myth that Gilbert Musgrave was sentenced to 25 years to life for possession of a stolen VCR and camcorder, and that Thomas Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life for possesion of a stolen bicycle?

Perhaps there was not a need for 20 new prisons, and perhaps the inmate count did not reach the "grim projections," there is no cause to insultingly label critics of the law as "pro-criminal." Pro-justice, or pro-fairness, would be apt. Non-violent crimes, regardless of criminal histories, cannot justifiy a sentence of 25 years to life. Shoplifting a $3 or $33 or $50 or $100 item does not justify a sentence of 25 years to life. Proportionality and fairness are not values of the "pro-criminal" lobby, they are, or at least used to be, fundamental American values.

Posted by: Jed Sorokin-Altmann | Jul 7, 2008 9:17:51 AM

Is it a myth that Rene Landa is serving 27 years to life for stealing a spare tire? Or a myth that his previous convictions were a burglary conviction nine years prior to stealing the tire and another burglarly conviction 13 years prior to that arrest?

Is it a myth that Johnny Quirino was sentenced to 25 years to life for petty theft of razor blades?

Is it a myth that Vincent Truel was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifting a pack of AA batteries? Is it a myth that Robert DiBlasi was sentenced to 31 years to life for shoplifting a pack of AA batteries?

Is it a myth that Nathan Thomas was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifitng a $33 pack of t-shirts?

Is it a myth that Gilbert Musgrave was sentenced to 25 years to life for possession of a stolen VCR and camcorder, and that Thomas Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life for possesion of a stolen bicycle?

Perhaps there was not a need for 20 new prisons, and perhaps the inmate count did not reach the "grim projections," there is no cause to insultingly label critics of the law as "pro-criminal." Pro-justice, or pro-fairness, would be apt. Non-violent crimes, regardless of criminal histories, cannot justifiy a sentence of 25 years to life. Shoplifting a $3 or $33 or $50 or $100 item does not justify a sentence of 25 years to life. Proportionality and fairness are not values of the "pro-criminal" lobby, they are, or at least used to be, fundamental American values.

Posted by: Jed Sorokin-Altmann | Jul 7, 2008 9:18:32 AM

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