A Narrower ‘Three Strikes’?

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California's three strikes law is often blamed for the state's overcrowded prisons and rising state spending on corrections (though three strikes is only one of many sentencing laws and decisions that are responsible for these problems).

Efforts to fix three strikes, however, have failed.

In 2004, a ballot initiative to limit three strikes crashed in the final days before the election under a last-minute assault from a billionaire's ads and then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A new proposal for a ballot measure, however, has the best chance politically of reforming three strikes.

It's narrowly drawn. It would permit prisoners convicted under three strikes to appeal their life sentences -- so long as their previous convictions did not include rape, murder, child molestations or certain other heinous crimes.

That would allow three-strikers who got life sentences even though their third strike was a non-violent felony to petition for new sentences.

But it could blunt objections that violent criminals would be released too soon if three strikes were changed.

Previous attempts to change three strikes didn't make this distinction between those prisoners whose previous convictions were for serious violent crimes and those whose previous convictions were non-violent.

This is wise politically, and probably as a policy matter.

But it won't make much difference to the prisons.

Only a few thousand people (The San Francisco Chronicle says "more than 4,000" in this story) would be affected by the law, so even if all were released earlier, the impact on crowding and the budget would be minor.

More on California's Three Strikes Law:

Three Strikes Caused this Budget Problem

Clerical Error Led to Missed Strike

Voters Think They Know Best

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