Over the last two decades (1980-2000), the US prison population has increased 450%. California has led the nation in prison growth since the early 1980s, and it incarcerated a higher percentage of its population than any nation on earth by 1994. The same year California enacted a controversial sentencing law that will drive prison growth for decades to come. This is the story of that law.
Mark Klaas: It starts with a phone call that Polly's been kidnapped and everything changed. Then things changed again when we found out she was dead then somehow or another we were absolutely and totally thrust into the political arena which we did not necessarily want any part of. Kimber Reynolds in 1992 and the merger later of
the murder of 18 year-old Kimber Reynolds in 1992 and the murder a year later of Polly class shattered the lives of two California families. but unlike thousands of senseless killings whose only legacy is anguish these two murders led to the enactment of the toughest determinant sentencing law
known as three strikes and you're out this law began accruing criminal justice reform movement and has spread across the country and around the world
drafted by Mike Reynolds, California's three strikes law dramatically increases prison sentences for tens of thousands of repeat felons it profoundly alters the balance of power in the courtroom and in the decade ahead will force California to finance the largest prison construction program in American history. three strikes raises important questions about how sentencing laws are used to achieve public safety. how are such laws made? What do they cost?
who do they target? And why did Mark Klass and Mike Reynolds start out as allies and end up as bitter political rivals?
Mike Reynolds: Statistics don’t mean a whole lot until a person becomes one of them… why was this man out on parole committing more crime? The state’s responsibility is what we're talking about here one unindicted perpetrator commits murder.
Klaas Grandfather: The biggest media hunt for the missing person in the history of the world
Mike Reynolds: If we can put one on the books, how would we best direct it at the problem of the re-release of the same criminals over and over again? How would we best take care of that?
Jeff Long, Legislative Analyst: The first time it came around we never really did any fiscal assessment of it because it didn't pass the so-called giggle test and it wasn't worth the effort. It wasn't in a go anywhere it was so patently stupid.
Vince Schiraldi, Prison Alternative Advocate: they got Sen. Jones to carry it. And it went nowhere largely because it was a dog it was a bad piece of legislation. None of the legislative leaders would promote it. Even Sen. Jones did not push it that hard.
I felt strongly that they would have a very difficult time or I would have a difficult time as their author in trying to move that legislation out of the policy committee and state assembly based on the historic nature of that committee killing very tough criminal justice laws such as what was then the concept of three strikes.
To qualify the three strikes initiative for California's ballot Reynolds had 150 days to collect signatures from 5% of California voters over 400,000 signatures in all. With no financial backing Reynolds and a small group of supporters set out gather signatures on their own.
Mike Reynolds: Initiatives are expensive. They're tough. If you're from a community that represents only 2% of the state's population as Fresno does you have almost 0 chance of getting this up and running. But we were going to give it a try and nothing was going to stop us.
He did a great job of not just...