Monday, October 15, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 36, Three Strikes Reform

Official Title: Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties. Initiative Statute

Proposition 36 would amend California's Three Strikes law, which was supposed to be aimed at career and habitually violent criminals but in addition gave life sentences to many whose offenses were not that grave.

Under the current law, if a person has two prior "serious" or violent felony convictions, upon a third felony conviction (not just a violent or serious one), the sentence is life imprisonment. Under this system two bar fights and a non-violent theft can result in life imprisonment.

Three felonies may seem like a lot to those who have led felony-free lives, but the point is to distinguish sets of felonies that should add up to life imprisonment. Under Proposition 36, if one of the felonies was rape, murder, or child molestation, the third felony still results in life imprisonment.

Proposition 36 will make changes for those whose two prior convictions were for less grievous felonies and whose 3rd strike is a "nonserious, non-violent" felony. Even then, the usual sentence for the 3rd strike would be doubled.

Will some offenders be set free and then go out and commit a fourth crime? Sure. And everyone starts with zero convictions, yet crimes occur. Do most crimes go unconvicted? Certainly. The clearance rates for murders tends to less than 10%, and those solved are usually the amateur murders, not the gang-related or professional ones. Most criminals are convicted of only a few of the crimes they have actually committed. Yet most eventually serve some prison time, if they are not murdered by other criminals, because the more offenses you do, the more likely the police are to take notice and eventually try and convict you.

Do many former criminals reform? Yes, actually. When we sentence someone to life imprisonment for relatively minor crimes, we are sending the wrong message. If the justice system is fair, and is perceived as fair, it is much easier to get broad public buy-in. If the justice system strikes people as unjust, many people will refuse to cooperate with police or prosecutors who might otherwise.

Proposition 36 appears to be well thought out. It won't do away with crime in California, but it will make the justice system fairer.

Yes on 36, Fix the Three Strikes Law

Proposition 36 summary, official arguments, and text

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