Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ballot initiative proposed to soften California's three strikes law

The California secretary of state approved the request to petition filed by a Half Moon Bay resident to add an initiative to the November 2016 ballot (source).  Currently, California's three strikes law requires sentences of at least 25 years for those convicted of three violently felonies (source). The proposed initiative would reduce the number of crimes that count toward California's three strikes law and make it easier for prisoners to petition judges the get their sentences reconsidered. According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the proposed initiative could save the state several million dollars a year in prison expenses, but cost counties around $100 million a year because offenders would go to jail instead of prison. (For those wondering, jails are locally-operated short-term facilities, while prisons are state or federal long-term facilities.)

We've learned in class that individuals or groups of citizens can get their own propositions on state ballots, thereby directly influencing the state government and elections. We are also currently learning about the judiciary, and the necessary balance between consistency and discretion in enforcing the law.

What do you think of the three strikes law? What do you perceive to be the pros and cons? Do you think this grass root movement will be effective? How will softening it change the balance between consistency and discretion in the judicial system, if at all? How does changing the three strikes law contribute to the overall trend of prison and sentencing reform?

photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press


Juliana Stahr said...

I initially supported the ideology behind the three strikes law, which is that the three strikes law will help reduce crime and arrest rates, which will potentially deter criminals with the threat of increased time in prison. While the evidence against the three strikes law outweighs the evidence supporting it, many courts are still unsure about the outcomes from this law. There is not enough evidence on one side or the other to support or detract from the law; however, some experts agree that even if the law is not done away with, it should be changed. I believe that individual states should investigate on their crime rates with the three strikes law and see if this law is really needed for that state. In addition, the implementation of the three strikes law increased incarceration, which in turn increased operational costs in prisons. Analyses in 1994 suggested that the Three Strikes law would result in additional state prison operations costs of a few billion dollars annually by 2003, increasing to $6 billion dollars annually by 2026 as the full impact of the law was realized! We also need to think about the over population in cells and if we taxpayers want to keep pouring in money to lock up individuals who may have shoplifted three times. I believe California is right to soften this law as it has not shown to be too effective. I do not think that there will be a disruption between consistency and discretion in the judicial system as California experimented with the law and because the law did not create better outcomes, the law will simply be changed to support the public's view. Overall, this should not upset the balance.


Jared Mayerson said...

I agree with the initiative and believe that this is well-needed change. Personally, I don't agree with any minimum mandatory sentence or anything like this. A crime cannot be valued as a number, but rather each crime as it is. If the first strike is a terrible crime, it should be treated as such. If a third strike is a small crime, it should be treated as such. I don't think that other, past incidents should decide sentencing for current law violations. I can see how the Three Strikes Law might be able to deter crime (mostly when on the second to last strike), but I think it causes more damage than benefits. Systems should exist to deter crime, but I don't think this is one of them. Any set minimum value sentencing for a crime does not seem right to me. I agree with Juliana that this change would not "upset the balance" and that the Three Strikes Law "has not shown to be too effective."