The cost of “Three Strikes”
By J. Carter
In the late 80’s the state of California was in it worst economic slump since the great depression of the 1920’s. People who wanted to work couldn’t find jobs. Some people turned to crime to feed themselves and survive. Meanwhile, crack cocaine was having a devastating effect on low-income communities. Public safety was a major issue for California. History shows us that in bad economic times crime will be more prevalent. Crime waves follow the economy and demographics. Its simple, the more young and unemployed people there are in the state, the higher crime rates will be.
Proposition 184 was put on the ballot under the title “Three Strike and Your Out”. It was drafted to keep repeat offender in prison. The inititive passed by a wide margin votes. Oven time the Three Strikes law has proven to be a heavy burden to the state’s budget. The law has been costly to taxpayers as the inmate population increased substantially. As California faces tough economic times major reform is needed and a different approach is needed to combat crime. Handing out lengthy sentences and locking more people up isn’t the answer. Changing the sentencing guidelines of the three strikes law wont fix the states problems, but would free up some much needed money.
In 1991 the “tough on crime” Governor Pete Wilson was elected. Wilson was a staunch supporter of the popular but controversial “Three Strikes” law. Two years into Governor Wilson’s first term, the people of California already sickened by public safety issues, were further outraged when a parolee abducted and murdered Polly Klaas. Polly’s father Mark Klaas lobbied diligently for passing the “Three Strikes” law, in which an individual with a prior serious or violent felony conviction, would a receive 25 to life sentence if convicted for any two non violent felonies. Several parts of the law are little known to the public. If you have one serious or violent felony, and you are convicted of a second felony, the prison term is doubled, no matter how serious or violent the second offense. Three strikes has been very effective in keeping repeat offenders in prison. A number of states across the nation have passed similar three strikes law but California is the only state in which a serious or violent felony isn’t needed to receive a third strike. Despite California’s lower crime rates since the enactment of the law, US census bureau ranked California 13th in country for violent crimes per 100,000 persons in 2008.
Opponents of the law argue that it’s a violation of the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution. Arguing that the sentencing is too harsh for some crimes and is cruel and unusual punishment. Which in the non-violent cases I agree. The release of the over 4000 non-violent 3 strikers would open up a lot of space. The money saved from not housing these inmates for their natural lives would reach billions of dollars. However in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that the law isn’t a violation of the eighth amendment
It’s apparent that the state need to take a second looks how they choose to punish offender. Instead of barbaric sentencing guidelines currently in place, lawmakers should be focusing towards rehabilitation for those getting out of prison. Releasing them under the watch of parole agent isn’t enough. The ones released with no family or friends turn to the streets and most likely eventually end up back in the system. The Little Hoover Commission Report provided statistics that California currently has a 67% recidivism rate, while the national average is only 35%. These statistic show that three strikes hasn’t kept people from returning to prison. Programs for non-violent offenders helping them with housing, education, employment, legal services, and counseling would be much more cost effective than locking them up in the first place. Given the opportunity to me prison is place to house the murders,...
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