Twenty years ago, the state of California passed the controversial Three Strikes Law. The law has seen a few revisions but questions remain unanswered: Does the Three Strike Law lead to a safer society? Is this law another inhumane action taken by an ever-increasingly apparent police state, most recently evidenced in officers using newly deployed living body bags to shove the entire bodies of suspects into and carry them off to jail?
“We have more people incarcerated than any other country in the world,” says Liz Stewart, mother of a Three-Striker given a death-term sentence.
My young son of 25 years was arrested. The district attorney made no offers and Jeremy was forced to go to trial. The attorney I hired (Anthony J Solare) never prepared us for what was about to happen next.
“Jeremy was convicted October 2010. Judge David Gills S of San Diego issued two strikes, each for 25 years, plus ten times two years for breach of contract. The judge referred to it as ‘two nickels doubled up’.
Seventy years for taking jewellery worth less than the price of an old car.” (The Guardian)
This 30-minute documentary below follows the story of Jeremy Stewart, a Three Striker young father serving 70 years in prison for non-violent crimes.
Financially, the three-strikes law’s strong effect in California has meant that the taxpayer’s cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated averages approximately $47,102 dollars a year. The more the full force of the three strikes law is implemented, the higher the cost for the state. That is money that could be used for other resources such as schools, food for hungry children, and genuine evidence-based rehabilitation programs for inmates, as the department of corrections falsley claims to do.
The popular name of these laws, three-strikes laws, comes from baseball, where a batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third.
Data shows that the three-strike laws have not necessarily reduce violent crime, but instead, in states such as California where a “strike” did not have to be a violent felony, incarcerated more “criminals” for non-violent and petty crimes, dramatically raising the prison population — great for business.
Due to Jeremy’s sentence and his crimes counted as serious felonies, Jeremy was sent to Calipatria State Prison, a maximum security facility, designed to house the “worst of the worst”. Because he was convicted under the three strikes law, he cannot reduce the time he spends in prison by more than one-fifth (rather than the standard one-half) of his sentence; therefore, he will become eligible for parole in 59.5 years, when he is 86 years old.
A National Bureau of Economic Research study found three-strikes laws like California’s, while discouraging criminals from actions such as smoking pot or shoplifting, might be pushing those who do commit crime, to commit more violent offenses. This study’s author, Radha Iyengar, argues that this is because under such laws, felons knowing they could face a long jail sentence for their next crime, have little to lose by committing serious crimes rather than minor offenses. (I’d rather be Hanged for a Sheep than a Lamb: The Unintended Consequences of ‘Three-Strikes’ Laws)
A 2015 study found that three-strikes laws were associated with a 33% increase in the risk of fatal assaults on law enforcement officers. (Crifasi, Cassandra K.; Pollack, Keshia M.; Webster, Daniel W. (2015-12-30). “Effects of state-level policy changes on homicide and nonfatal shootings of law enforcement officers”. Injury Prevention: injuryprev–2015–041825. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2015-041825. ISSN 1475-5785. PMID 26718550)
November’s Prop. 57 Vote Approaches
“To do nothing and allow California’s prison overcrowding to grow is a dangerous alternative. At some point, probably in the very near future, the federal courts will mandate the release of prisoners. Some of the prisoners released may be more dangerous than the ones now being targeted by Prop. 57,” reports The Bakersfield Californian.
Proposition 57 is on the November ballot. It’s the governor’s proposal to reform California’s sentencing system to allow people convicted of nonviolent felonies to be considered for parole after completing their sentence for their primary crime, without enhancements.
To encourage inmates’ good behavior, the state Parole Board can consider credits for conduct, rehabilitation, educational achievements and others. The governor must also agree before parole is granted to an inmate.
Juvenile offenders over 14-years old would receive a juvenile court hearing before tried in adult court. There would no longer be automatic referrals to adult court, or prosecutors deciding where a case will be tried.
“About 30,000 currently incarcerated prisoners eventually could be considered for parole if Prop. 57 passes. That does not mean these prisoners will automatically be considered; nor does it mean parole will be granted,’ reports the Bakersfield Californian. “It is hard to predict how many prisoners will be released now and in the future, and how much money taxpayers will save if Prop. 57 passes. But the legislative analyst estimates the annual cost savings will be many millions.”
Jeremy’s two small children, now aged three and five, will not meet their father outside a prison visiting room until they are in their sixties.
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