|Three Strikes Reform Qualified for November Ballot|
|Written by David Greenwald|
|Wednesday, 13 June 2012 03:58|
In 2010, the Yolo County District Attorney's office, led by Deputy DA Clinton Parish, sought to put Robert Ferguson, charged with the theft of a package of shredded cheese, into prison for life under California's three strikes law.
Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish argued that, given Mr. Ferguson's long history of being in prison for a total of 22 years, he has not learned from his mistakes. Mr. Parish told the court, "The people gave him another shot, yet here we are again... Simply put this defendant is a career criminal."
Both the probation officer and a doctor strongly recommended that the judge strike all three strikes against Mr. Ferguson. Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia argued that many of Ferguson's prior burglary convictions occurred 30 years ago. She noted that the nature of the crimes were not violent in any way. No weapons or injuries were used.
Eventually Judge Warriner agreed to strike one of the strikes, but that still left Mr. Ferguson with a seven-year prison sentence for stealing $3.99 worth of shredded cheese.
Under a new ballot initiative, this type of offense would not qualify under the California Three Strikes Law.
On Monday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the revision of the three strikes law as the state's seventh ballot measure for the November ballot, and an eighth measure was subsequently added.
In order to qualify for the ballot, the three strikes initiative needed 504,760 valid petition signatures, which is equal to five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2010 gubernatorial election.
According to the Attorney General's official title and summary, the law "revises three strikes law to impose life sentence only when new felony conviction is serious or violent. Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if third strike conviction was not serious or violent and judge determines sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety."
It would continue to impose the current life sentence "if third strike conviction was for certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession."
It also maintains a life sentence if any of the prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation.
According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, "State savings related to prison and parole operations that potentially range in the high tens of millions of dollars annually in the short run, possibly exceeding $100 million annually in the long run."
They added, "Increased state and county costs in the millions to low tens of millions of dollars annually in the first few years, likely declining substantially in future years, for state court activities and county jail, community supervision, and court-related activities."
The measure has the support of both San Francisco's and LA's District Attorneys.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has called the measure "conservative," arguing it will save the state billions of dollars without turning soft on crime.
"I have been in law enforcement for over thirty years and I know that spending more money on prisons doesn't solve the bigger issue of reducing crime. The Three Strikes Reform Act saves California taxpayers money and restores the original intent of the law by focusing on truly dangerous criminals," Mr. Gascón said.
"This is not about soft-on-crime," the district attorney said. "The hardcore violent offenders will continue to be dealt with very harshly according to three strikes."
He argued that the reforms make both moral and financial sense, with over 40% of current third strike inmates in California in prison for non-violent and non-serious offenses, to the tune of $100 million in annual costs to taxpayers with medical costs for them over their lifetimes costing $4.7 billion.
"If you look at the traditional law-and-order community, they feel that this is somehow a slippery slope," Mr. Gascón said. "This by itself is a very conservative, very thoughtful, very tightly crafted reform to three strikes and one that is sensible from a law enforcement point of view and a financial point of view."
He is joined by one of his colleagues, Los Angeles DA and former Republican candidate for Attorney General, Wes Cooley.
Mr. Cooley said, "The state should not allow the misallocation of limited penal resources by having life prison sentences for those who do not pose a serious criminal threat to society. The punishment should fit the crime."
The measure is written by Stanford Law School professors, and is modeled after Senate Bill 1642, which was drafted by Los Angeles District Attorney Cooley in 2006, and the Three Strikes sentencing policy that District Attorney Cooley successfully implemented in Los Angeles County almost twelve years ago.
"The Three Strikes Reform Act is right for California," said District Attorney Cooley. "It will ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Dangerous recidivist criminals will remain behind bars for life, and our overflowing prisons will not be clogged with inmates who pose no risk to public safety."
They argued it would save the state tens of millions a year in the short run and more than $100 million per year in the long run.
They write, "Voters came this close to revamping Three Strikes back in 2004, when a ballot initiative mandating that the third strike be a violent or serious crime was overwhelmingly ahead in the polls just 10 days before the election. Enter then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commercials against the change - commercials bankrolled by O.C. billionaire bad boy Henry T. Nicholas III to the tune of $3.5 million - and the turnaround was dramatic. The measure failed."
However, times have changed. The economy was better in 2004 and they argue, "The cost of Three Strikes wasn't as galvanizing an issue as it may turn out to be this year."
They argue, "A scathing report by the California State Auditor in 2009 found that the number of prisoners in the California Department of Corrections decreased by about 1 percent over three years; but its expenses increased by 32 percent over that time period anyway. It painted a disturbing portrait of a department reeling under the weight of spiking salaries, high overtime payouts, generous retirement benefits and a mandatory Three Strikes policy that its employee union fervently backed - and which had swelled California's prisons to their breaking point."
In fact, they add, "One out of every four prisoners in the system were third strikers, the auditor found. The cost of keeping them in jail for these longer sentences: $19.2 billion."
However much fiscal conservatives are getting behind this measure, even Grover Norquist is supporting the reform.
He said, "The Three Strikes Reform Act is tough on crime without being tough on taxpayers. It will put a stop to needlessly wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayers' hard-earned money, while protecting people from violent crime."
---David M. Greenwald reporting
I am so happy to hear that the "Three Strike Reform" is going to the ballot. It makes so much sense to make the punishment fit the crime, and it saves money too.
I'm glad they are finally reforming 3-strikes. Unfortunately, the reform is superficial. The 3rd strike as "sold" to the voters was for serious felonies, such as rape and murder.
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