A recent article in The Recorder at Law.com details just how far California has come in the last 18 years on reforming its infamous three-strikes law.
Six years ago Stanford Law School lecturer Michael Romano helped launch the Three Strikes Project, a unique student-fueled organization that represents inmates serving life in prison under California's strict sentencing law.
Six weeks from now, state voters could put the project out of business — or at least change its mission dramatically. And that's OK with Romano.
Romano, along with Stanford law professor David Mills and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund counsel Jeffrey Robinson, wrote Proposition 36. The ballot measure would bar 25-to-life sentences — the current penalty for all third strikers — for some felons whose most recent crimes are classified as nonserious or nonviolent. Defendants previously convicted of an "extremely violent" crime, including murder and rape, would still face a third-strike life sentence no matter how minor their current offenses.
Current inmates — the very clients the Three Strikes Project serves now — would be able to petition courts for resentencing if nonserious or nonviolent crimes triggered their third-strike convictions.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Romano said of the initiative's chances. They should be. Recent polling suggests Prop 36 is headed toward victory on Nov. 6.
If successful, Prop 36 supporters will have accomplished something politicians and activists tried and failed to do twice over the past 18 years: amend a popular Three Strikes law that voters enacted with 72 percent of the vote in 1994.So, what has changed? According to the article, reforming the three strikes provision hasn't been on the political radar much in this election year, and Prop 36 has the support of the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys and Los Angeles's police chief. It probably doesn't hurt that the reform, if passed, would save money and some of the rare bed space in California's already over-stocked prisons.
But maybe it's the terrible stories -- 25-to-life for stealing slices of pizza and golf clubs -- that have pushed the public ahead of lawmakers on the issue. We gather Faces of FAMM because we know a human story can change a heart and mind better than mounds of data and statistics.
The referendum giveth, and the referendum taketh away. We shall see which it is in California on November 6.