Pubdate: Wed, 01 May 2002
Source: New Jersey Herald (NJ)
Copyright: 2002, Quincy Newspapers, Inc
Author: Bill Weightman



Recently, I read your fine editorial on the "three strikes" law in 
California. After reviewing a number of law school journals on the subject 
and a report issued by the Sentencing Project entitled: Aging Behind Bars: 
"Three Strikes" Seven Years Later, I found that there is little evidence to 
suggest that the implementation of the "three strikes" law in California 
and in a number of other states has had any significant impact on crime, 
but a good deal of evidence to suggest contrary results that includes a 
further crowding of that system and the overall national penal system.

Nationally half the states have passed some form of "three strikes" 
legislation, but only a handful have convicted more than a hundred 
individuals, while California as of May 31, 2001 had more than 50,000 
offenders with 6,721 for "three strikes" offenses, and an additional 43,800 
under the law's "second strike" provision.

The initial results of California's "three strike laws" is that there is an 
aging of the prison population in that state. In just the first five years 
of the law's implementation the proportion of new felony admissions above 
the age of 40 increased from 15.3 percent in 1994 to 23.1 percent by 1999. 
This is in contrast with the consistent decline in admissions for age 
groups between 20 and 35 years of age. This aging process in the long run 
will place burdens upon the resources of the California and other state 
penal systems, with much dollars going to the increased expense of housing 
older inmates.

In addition, the policy is already exacerbating the racial disparities that 
exist in the prison system. In California, blacks make up 37 percent of 
those sentenced under second strike laws and 44 percent of those sentenced 
under third strike laws. With crime declining nationally, the time has come 
to review such sentencing practices and to come up with a fairer and more 
humane system or we will see more headlines like the following, which 
appeared in the Los Angeles Times; June 19, 2001: "Court Upholds 3 Strikes 
Term for Cookie Thief."

Bill Weightman

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