Thursday, November 3, 2011

California's Three Strikes: Can It Be Changed?

The San Jose Mercury News has this interesting article about a new proposal to scale back California's notorious mandatory minimum "three strikes" law, which has helped send the state into an unprecedented prison  spending crisis.

Here's the skinny:

An effort to limit California's tough Three Strikes Law is gaining momentum, with a proposed ballot initiative that would reserve the toughest penalty -- 25 years to life -- for the baddest of the bad, including murderers, rapists and child molesters.
The initiative, now under state legal review, was carefully crafted by a group of Stanford University law professors and stops far short of the extensive changes proposed under a previous reform measure that narrowly failed in 2004.
The Legislature and voters passed the Three Strikes Law in 1994 after several high-profile murders committed by ex-felons sparked public outrage, including the kidnapping from her Petaluma home and strangling of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Since then, the courts have sent more than 80,000 "second-strikers" and 7,500 "third-strikers" to state prison, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office. Though third-strikers make up just 6 percent of the prison population, they are responsible for a disproportionate share of the state's spiraling prison health care costs -- at least $100 million annually -- as they age and need more medical attention, according to the California auditor.
The previous measure, Proposition 66, sought to restrict felonies that trigger a "third" strike to violent or serious crimes. Under the existing law, life sentences have been issued for such relatively minor crimes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen to get something to eat and forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom.

In contrast, the new initiative allows certain hard-core criminals, including murderers, rapists and child molesters, to be put away for life for any felony, including shoplifting, while restricting the third strike to a serious or violent felony for everyone else.
Do you think the odds are in favor of California changing its three strikes law?  Leave your thoughts in a comment.

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