but California; Three Strikes, tough on Crime
over the last decade, holding a statewide office in California required
a pledge of allegiance to the state’s
grotesque Three-Strikes law. With a couch potato population afraid
to walk outside their gated communities, "tough on crime" politicians
flourished, taking victim's rights to extremes. Other state's have
Three-Strikes laws, but California’s is the just plain ugly.
It is the only one in the nation that considers non-violent felonies
as second and third strikes.
that may soon change.
a petition campaign that has already quietly collected nearly 400,000
signatures, Citizens Against
Violent Crime (CAVC) is ready to put an initiative on this November’s
ballot that would amend the current law. If passed, California would
cease to be the only place in the world where someone can be thrown
into a maximum security prison for 25 years to life for stealing
a pizza or a loaf of bread. The initiative needs only 375,000
valid signatures to qualify.
was born of fear. In 1994, the California legislature approved the
current 3-Strikes law in response to the murder
of 9-year-old Polly Klaas. The intent was to make sure that violent
career criminals would be kept behind bars. The reality was quite
law was vague in describing the type of violations considered "Strikable" offenses.
With a media-driven political climate that played to the voter’s
fears, California’s Three-Strikes law soon imposed a mandatory
25 years-to-life sentence for non-violent crimes. With a prior arrest
record, stealing a videotape could result in a prison sentence of
bad law has a price. The financial blowback from Three-Strikes laid
waste to California’s already debt ridden budget. The price
tag was $35,000 a year per inmate to maintain the more than 30,000
non-violent offenders in California prisons. This was passed on to
California taxpayers at a rate of more than 1 billion dollars a year.
And that figure got higher as more non-violent offenders were imprisoned.
new version of Three-Strikes is called "The Three-Strikes and
Child Protection Act of 2004" (here,
in pdf format). If passed, only violent and/or serious felonies
would be counted as a strike. The Act allows prisoners convicted
of non-violent and/or petty crimes to apply for re-sentencing — an
opportunity that will not be afforded to those convicted of violent
and/or serious crimes. It also creates a "One-Strike" 25-years-to-life
sentence for sex crimes committed against children under ten — an
amendment that scored exceptionally high with focus groups.
far, it appears that California is ready to soften its tough on crime
stance. The petition is considered a “stopper” by signature
gatherers. One mention of amending “Three Strikes” gets
the attention of a prospective signer.
fuel to the signature collection drive is a recent
report that concludes that since its enactment, California's
current three-strikes law has had little impact on cutting the rate
of violent crime.
who supported the current law? Who wanted a pizza thief in lockdown
for 25 years? The list is bipartisan. Democratic State Senator Dianne
Feinstein. Democratic Ex-Governor Gray Davis. Current Republican
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican Ex-Governor Pete Wilson.
Republican State Senate Candidate and original Three-Strikes author
Bill Jones. Republican Ex-State Attorney General Dan Lungren. Democratic
Ex-State Attorney Bill Lockyer. The list is disgustingly long.
any of them flip flop?
is already hedging his bets. As the campaign season plays out and
the initiative gathers steam, the once so-called “tough on
crime” crowd will gradually throw their support to the new
law. After all, it will be hard to oppose the grandfather of Polly
Klaas, who is chair of CAVC.
current 3-Strikes law has only added to our grief over Polly’s
death,” Klaas says. “My family is deeply disappointed
by the law that passed in her name because of its failure to focus
on hard-core criminals by diverting critical resources to the prosecution
of non-violent offenses.”
to Klaas, the new law “will resolve this terrible miscarriage
of justice and restore a sense of purpose to my granddaughter’s
up shoplifters for 25 years” Klaas says, “is not equivalent
to being tough on crime.”
— Nathan Callahan,
March 5, 2004