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Understanding Three Strike Legislation and Its Impact

July 3, 2011

By Tracey Kaplan

What is Three Strike Legislation?

The Three Strikes Law, implemented in California in 1994, represents one of the strictest sentencing policies in the United States. This legislation mandates severe penalties for repeat offenders, specifically targeting those convicted of multiple serious or violent felonies. The law’s primary aim is to deter habitual offenders by imposing life sentences upon the conviction of a third serious or violent felony, with the intent of reducing crime rates and enhancing public safety.

Efforts to Reform California’s Three Strikes Law

Despite its intentions, the California Three Strikes Law has faced significant criticism and calls for reform. A coalition led by Stanford University lawyers is advocating for changes to this stringent policy. Their efforts focus on the 2012 ballot initiative aimed at limiting the application of the third strike to violent or serious crimes only. This initiative, supported by notable figures like David W. Mills, former investment banker and Stanford Law School professor, and political consultant Averell “Ace” Smith, aims to address the perceived injustices and financial burdens imposed by the current law.

Understanding the California Three Strikes Law

The California Three Strikes Law was passed in response to high-profile crimes, such as the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Under this law, offenders convicted of three serious or violent felonies face life imprisonment. The legislation’s broad scope, however, has led to life sentences for relatively minor offenses, such as theft or forgery, due to the inclusion of any felony as a potential third strike. This has resulted in over 80,000 second-strikers and 7,500 third-strikers being incarcerated, significantly impacting California’s prison population.

Impact of Three Strike Legislation on Criminal Justice

The Three Strikes Law has profoundly affected California’s criminal justice system. While proponents argue that the law has helped reduce crime rates and keep dangerous offenders off the streets, critics highlight several adverse effects:

  • Overcrowded Prisons: The law has contributed to severe overcrowding in California’s prisons, leading to a U.S. Supreme Court mandate to reduce the prison population.
  • High Costs: Nonviolent third-strikers are projected to cost the state nearly $200 million annually over the next 25 years.
  • Disproportionate Sentences: Many argue that the law results in disproportionately harsh sentences for minor crimes, which is seen as an inefficient use of prison space and resources.

Frequently Asked Questions about Three Strikes Law

Q: What is the primary goal of the Three Strikes Law?
A: The main objective is to deter repeat offenders by imposing severe penalties, including life sentences, for those convicted of multiple serious or violent felonies.

Q: Why is there a push to reform the California Three Strikes Law?
A: Critics argue that the law’s broad application leads to unjustly harsh sentences for minor offenses, contributing to prison overcrowding and high costs. Reform efforts aim to limit the third strike to serious or violent crimes only.

Q: How has the Three Strikes Law impacted California’s prison population?
A: The law has significantly increased the number of inmates, with over 80,000 second-strikers and 7,500 third-strikers, exacerbating prison overcrowding and associated costs.

Q: What are the arguments in favor of the Three Strikes Law?
A: Supporters believe the law has helped reduce crime rates by keeping repeat offenders off the streets and ensuring public safety.

Q: What changes are proposed in the reform initiative?
A: The reform initiative seeks to limit the third strike to serious or violent crimes, potentially reducing the number of life sentences for nonviolent offenders and alleviating prison overcrowding and costs.

By understanding the nuances and impact of the Three Strikes Law, we can better appreciate the ongoing efforts to reform this significant piece of legislation and its implications for the criminal justice system in California.

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