Three Strikes Law
California voters enacted the Three Strikes and You Are Out law in 1994. The enactment was as a response to a situation at that time that involved the tragic murder of Polly Klass and Kimber Reynolds. The enacted law approved the imposition of a life sentence to almost any crime, without taking into consideration the magnitude of the crime if the defendant had been convicted twice of crimes defined to be violent or serious as per the California penal code. The official ballot material used in the promotion of the Three Strikes Law indicated that the sentence intended to keep child molesters, rapists, and murderers behind bars, a place where they belonged. The intention of the law might have worked as planned at that particular time, but today a bigger number of prisoners, more than half of the sentenced under the Three Strikes Law, are convicted of nonviolent crimes. Many inmates serve life sentences under petty offenses like stealing a dollar from a parked car, possession of narcotics that weigh less than a gram, and attempting a soup kitchen break-in (Chambliss, 2011).
The law has both negative and positive impacts on the society. Statistics collected from the Department of Corrections in California suggested that the Three Strikes Law disproportionately affected the minority population. More than 45 percent of all inmates convicted under the Three Strikes Law are African-Americans. The application of the law is disproportionate towards the physically disabled and mentally ill defendants. Auditors from California State made estimations of the Three Strikes Law attributed to an additional and over $19 billion in expenses towards the California State prison budget. It is in the view of many criminologists that life sentences for non-violent, repetitive offenders do not improve public safety. The only positive impact of the law is the fact that during its enactment, many offenders were put behind bars. The law reduced the crime rate across different regions, as many criminals feared the consequences of their continued crime actions. The problem was in the making, but the public and the States could not see the long-term effects of the law. At first, the public was satisfied with the enactment of the law, having been blindfolded by the then events that led to the enactment of the law (Chen, 2008).
As time went by, a number of petty offenders behind bars, convicted under the Three Strikes Law, kept on increasing. It made no difference on what crime was committed because murderers, rapists, non-violent offenders, and other petty crime offenders were all in the same situation. With the significant numbers of offenders behind bars, the cost of running and maintaining the correctional facilities in most states that had adopted the Three Strikes Law is on the increase. The cost had to be passed to the local taxpayers, where commodity prices increased and the taxpayers had to dig a little bit deeper in their pockets to implement the law they once supported (Chen, 2008; Walsh, 2007).
The Three Strikes Law was first enacted with good intentions, but with the passage of time, the law was not fair to all offenders. The law was mainly meant to put the rapists, murderers, and child molesters behind bars, a place they will receive justice for their crimes. However, with time, the law did not achieve its aim; even non-violent offenders were convicted under the Three Strikes law. The law put together the violent offenders and non-violent offenders, a thing that depicted the crime as being analyzed under the general approach without taking into consideration different degrees of crimes (Chen, 2008; Walsh, 2007).
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Both the citizens and the state government felt the effects of the Three Strikes Law as time progressed. Proposition 36, which was a reform Act under the Three Strikes law, was enacted in 2012 after an overwhelming support from the voters. The reform act was meant to address the unintended and harshest effects of the sentencing law. Proposition 36 resulted in the elimination of life sentences towards the non-violent and non-serious crimes. The reform also established a procedure used by inmates who were sentenced to life prior to the reform law and had minor crime to petition the court for reduced sentences. The court only reduced the sentences of many inmates after finding them non-threatening to public safety. Proposition 36 is the first initiative by voters to reduce sentences for inmate currently behind bars since the Civil War (Walsh, 2007).
The first eight months of the proposition 36 enactment saw over 1000 prisoners released from the California correction facilities. Out of all the inmates released from the California correctional facilities, the recidivism rate stood at less than 2 percent of criminals charged with new crimes. The 2 percent rate is a number considered to be below the national and state average. The enactment of proposition 36 made a positive impact towards the California taxpayers by saving each taxpayer about $10 to $13 in taxes. The overall amount of taxpayer money to be saved in the next ten years with a proper enactment of proposition 36 will be around $1 billion. There have been major decongestion and improvements in the correctional facilities in states that enacted the Proposition 36, allowing for proper service delivery and fair trial to all criminals (Walsh, 2007).