With California facing a budget crisis and our jails so horribly overcrowded that judges openly mock the “power” of sentencing people to jail time, there are currently people sitting in California jails serving 50 year sentences for shoplifting. While that may seem like some extreme propaganda used by criminal defense attorneys or the far left, the simple fact is, California’s “three strikes” law is horribly flawed.
It is so flawed, that Californians have collected enough signatures to add a ballot measure to the November elections that would seriously reform the three strikes law and in turn, save hundreds of millions of dollars in the long term.
If approved, the reforms would do two things.
1) There is a list of felonies that count as a strike under California’s Three Strike law. Commit one of these crimes, and a strike goes on your record for life. Any crime you commit thereafter, your sentence can be doubled. Commit a second felony that counts as a strike and the sentence enhancements increase even more. There are more than two dozen US states with similar laws. But here is where California law differs from every other similar law in the country.
Once a person has two strikes, any felony conviction will result in a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison. That includes shoplifting, felony possession of marijuana, or even a DUI. What the ballot measure is hoping to accomplish is to require that the 3rd strike be a violent felony in order to trigger the 25 years to life sentence.
2) If it passes, the ballot measure would also retroactively re-sentence 3rd strike offenders jailed for non-violent crimes, easing the strain on our already overtaxed prisons.
The immediate financial impact would be monumental, as these non-violent offenders would be released, freeing tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money that goes towards housing these inmates. Long term, the impact is even greater as non-violent offenders would be sentenced to far shorter prison terms, preemptively easing the taxpayer burden.
The ballot measure easily passed the petition phase, collecting more than 800,000 signatures. It only needed just over 500,000 to make the November ballot. Whether it passes or not remains to be seen. But for the sake of California taxpayers and the integrity of the criminal justice system, we certainly hope that it does.