Smart reform of three-strikes law with Prop. 36 is long overdue

Voters approved the three-strikes law in 1994 as a way to keep violent, repeat offenders off the streets. To an extent, it has worked. In other cases, however, it has failed miserably, needlessly increasing our state’s jail population.

There are about 9,000 people incarcerated for 25 years to life for third-strike offenses. Approximately 3,600 landed there for nonviolent, nonserious offenses. Clearly, the law is being used to sentence people to extended terms for offenses that could be better dealt with in a less serious manner. Proposition 36 would change the law so that if a third offense is not serious or violent it would not be counted as a third strike and not carry an increased sentence.

The state prison population has become so large that a federal judge ordered California to create a plan to reduce the number of inmates housed in its facilities. The state realignment program, which shifts the burden of some nonviolent inmates from the state to counties, has decreased the population some. But more needs to be done on that front.

The more prisoners the state houses, the more taxpayer money cannot be spent on education or health services — both budget areas that have been cut to the bone in recent years.

Prop. 36 would continue to send violent repeat offenders to prison for 25 years to life, which was the goal of the original three-strikes law. But it would appropriately revise the law in a way that makes complete sense.

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