Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Contact:  213-237-4712
Pubdate: Wed, 20 May 1998


"State High Court Ruling Toughens 3-Strikes Law," May 15: The California
Supreme Court says that the three-strikes law was very clear, but I
certainly didn't know that a single criminal act could count as multiple
strikes. I also didn't know that nonviolent crimes could count as strikes.
Now we see Russell Benson get 25 years to life for stealing a carton of
cigarettes. That may be allowed by the language of the law, but is that
really what the voters had in mind?


* * *

The court's decision makes it more important than ever to temper our
state's three-strikes law with common sense, fairness and humane
consideration. I worked for more than 10 years in the L.A. County district
attorney's office, so I understand the law enforcement perspective. I have
been a victim of crime. But I'm also the father of a young man serving an
unduly long prison sentence under our harsh three-strikes law.

The pendulum has swung too far on the side of severe penalties. What does
this say about a society and a justice system that have become as vicious
as the crimes they seek to punish? What will we really gain by raising a
generation of young people in prison?

I recommend that the third strike must be a serious, violent felony. As in
death penalty cases, inform juries that they are dealing with a "strikes"
case and the possible consequences. Give judges more discretion to weed out
the cases for which the three-strikes law was not intended. Finally,
instead of this intense drive to incarcerate more and more young people,
let's put more resources into education and rehabilitation.

AL ALBERGATE Hermosa Beach Copyright Los Angeles Times

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Checked-by:  (Joel W. Johnson)