There are nearly 9,000 inmates in California prisons serving time under the state’s three strikes law.
Almost a third of them serving 25 years to life for non-violent, non-serious third strike convictions such as minor drug possession or shoplifting.
Keeping them behind bars isn’t cheap, about $47 thousand per inmate a year. That’s why San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is backing Proposition 36, a revision of the three strikes law.
“We have people that are occupying space that would be better occupied by people who make us unsafe, people that are dangerous,” said Gascon.
Proposition 36 would save the state a hundred million dollars a year by requiring a third strike be a violent and serious crime. It also allows those serving time for a minor third strike to have their sentences reviewed for a possible early release.
But others say crime will sky-rocket if you give criminals a break on their third strike.
“To weaken it is just going to weaken the public safety for the people of California,” said Nina Salarno, board member of Crime Victims United.
Law enforcement officials and district attornies have turned out in force in opposing Proposition 36. But key crime fighters are also backing Prop. 36.
The authors of the measure include a legal team from Stanford University. They say they want a more equitable system that gives more flexibility to the court system. Prop. 36 would allow judges and D.A.’s to decide who gets a third strike. Murderers and rapists would not get a break on their third strike.
“Those people will continue to face a third strike offense, even if the third strike is a low level offense,” said Gascon.
He said San Francisco and Los Angeles already use Proposition 36 guidelines and have not seen an increase in crime. Proponents say because each county interprets the law differently, people are getting unequal justice. The National NAACP is also backing the effort believing that blacks suffer more under the three strikes provisions.
But those representing crime victims insist any habitual criminal is capable of violence, even when committing so-called non serious offenses. They insist that California’s crime rate has dropped since three strikes began getting career criminals off the streets.
But those who favor revising three strikess says Prop. 36 makes the justice system more fair and would let the punishment fit the crime in terms of sentencing.