This November an amended three strikes initiative will be placed on the ballot. Unfortunately, over the last decade, holding a statewide office in California required a pledge of allegiance to the state's grotesque Three-Strikes law. With a couch potato population afraid to walk outside their gated communities, "tough on crime" politicians flourished, taking victim's rights to extremes. Other state's have Three-Strikes laws, but California's is the just plain ugly. It is the only one in the nation that considers non-violent felonies as second and third strikes.
All that may soon change. In a petition campaign that has already quietly collected nearly 400,000 signatures, Citizens Against Violent Crime (CAVC) is ready to put an initiative on this November's ballot that would amend the current law. If passed, California would cease to be the only place in the world where someone can be thrown into a maximum security prison for 25 years to life for stealing a pizza or a loaf of bread. The initiative needs only 375,000 valid signatures to qualify.
Three-Strikes was born of fear. In 1994, the California legislature approved the current 3-Strikes law in response to the murder of 9-year-old Polly Klaas. The intent was to make sure that violent career criminals would be kept behind bars. The reality was quite different.
The law was vague in describing the type of violations considered "Strikable" offenses. With a media-driven political climate that played to the voter's fears, California's Three-Strikes law soon imposed a mandatory 25 years-to-life sentence for non-violent crimes. With a prior arrest record, stealing a videotape could result in a prison sentence of one-quarter century.
But bad law has a price. The financial blowback from Three-Strikes laid waste to California's already debt ridden budget. The price tag was $35,000 a year per inmate to maintain the more than 30,000 non-violent offenders in California prisons. This was passed on to California taxpayers at a rate of more than 1 billion dollars a year. And that figure got higher as more non-violent offenders were imprisoned.
CAVC's new version of Three-Strikes is called "The Three-Strikes and Child Protection Act of 2004" (here,...