Reforming Three Strikes

Twelve years ago, California led the country in passage of a three strikes law that threatened to lock up repeated offenders and throw away the key. Now, having seen the cost to the state and realizing that 60% of three strike offenders are non-violent, a realization is growing that a different route may be more effective.

Don't take our word for it, listen to some of the prosecutors in California who enforce the law, who are leading a drive to target only serious violent criminals with three strikes penalties:

"Two ballot initiatives - both led by Los Angeles area prosecutors - are aiming to put more flexibility in the three-strikes law, in a bid to address concerns that it is imprisoning too many nonviolent criminals at too great a cost to taxpayers. The measures would come before California voters in November if they qualify for the ballot.

"The public has expressed legitimate concerns about [the law's] use against those who commit new, nonviolent, not serious offenses," says Steve Cooley, L.A. County district attorney and coauthor of one of the initiatives, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006."

Mr. Cooley notes that 60 percent of the state's 7,700 "third strike" inmates are in prison for a nonviolent or nonserious third strike.

The cost of three strikes has been both human -- in prolonging imprisonment instead of looking to rehabilitation and drug treatment for non-violent criminals -- and financial. At $31,000 annually per prisoner, those are funds that could be used far more effectively in preventing violent crime and investing in programs for youth to prevent crime in the first place.

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