Proposition 36, which is on the ballot this fall, would change California’s Three Strikes law by raising the level of crimes that can hand a crook a life sentence. Relatively minor crimes shouldn’t put a criminal in prison for life, supporters say. They promise the changes in Prop 36 would not put violent offenders and dangerous criminals back on the streets — only those who are doing life sentences for “minor, non-violent crimes.”
Prop. 36 backers, who include the likes of District Attorneys George Gascon (San Francisco) Steve Cooley (Los Angeles) and Jeffrey Rosen (Santa Clara County) say that putting low-level offenders in prison for life is expensive and doesn’t contribute much to public safety. More traditional jail sentences, not life sentences, would still protect the public.
But those who like the three-strikes law want it to stay as it is. They claim that since the three strikes law was passed in 1994, the state has had a 50 percent reduction in almost every category of crime that makes a person eligible for a three strikes life sentence.
Criminologists look at that statistic and admit the law has had some effect in lowering crime rates, but they also point out that the crime-commiting population is growing older, which also puts a damper on the rates of more serious crimes.
The problem (if there is one), say backers, is that the state hasn’t built enough modern prisons. Nobody said more prison space wouldn’t be necessary if the three-strike law were passed, but legislatures ignored that.
Now, we are seeing the problems prison overcrowding is causing, with prisoners being released early to lower prison populations. Those getting out aren’t lifers, but if the three-strikes law were loosened, some of those being shown the door likely would have been lifers.
If you want more prisoners out of jail, vote yes on Prop. 36. If you want things the way they are, vote no.