Change to three strikes law

The current “three strikes and you’re out” law involves profound justice issues, since it treats serious felonies the same way as lesser crimes. If that has not been enough reason for change, the budget crisis should convince the California Legislature to reform this law.

Of 26 states with similar laws, California has the strictest version: it is the only state where the third crime does not need to be a violent one.

In reality, none of the three strikes needs to be a serious or violent felony for a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years in prison, according to a ballot initiative voters approved in 1994. This caused an explosion in the state’s inmate population, and many prisoners who are not dangerous enough for such sentences. It also led to increased expenses for the corrections sector and higher influence for the correctional employees union.

Therefore, AB 327, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Davis, Democrat of Los Angeles, is a way to redirect the law’s original intent. The bill accomplishes this by establishing there will be no automatic sentencing unless one of the three strikes is a murder, rape or child molestation.

On the one hand, this measure uses common sense when determining sentences, and it can save millions of dollars without necessarily endangering the community.

At the same time, there is a ballot initiative that also proposes changes to the three strikes law, which is partially similar to AB 327. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated a measure of this kind can save dozens of millions of dollars per year.

In 2004, voters narrowly rejected a ballot initiative that also required for the third strike to be a violent one. We think the dissatisfaction with the current law has increased since then and Californians are ready for change.

Yesterday, the full Assembly approved Davis’ bill, at the 11th hour and after rejecting it on Monday, sending it to the Senate for approval.

We hope the upper chamber gives its seal of approval and this begins to turn around a trend of late, in which prisons receive more funding than schools.