Prop 36 Gets My 'No' Vote
From Issue: Volume XX - Number 18
By Taylor Ramsey
Election time is nearing and there are some controversial ballot initiatives waiting for our vote. I am concerned about Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Law, Repeat Felony Offenders, Penalties, Initiative Statute. The Proposition is asking us to revise the current law to impose the life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent and it would authorize the re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if the conviction was not for a serious or violent crime. The Legislative Analyst’s office estimates the State of California can save $70 million annually on an ongoing basis; however, they do acknowledge the estimated costs could go up or down.
I am definitely voting against Proposition 36 as it makes absolutely no sense to me. Why? Because crime has fallen since implementing the Three Strikes Law and that is the outcome we desired in voting for the law in 1994.
According to information I discovered at www.threestrikes.org the crime rate in California is now at 1968 levels. As an example, in 1993 the total number of violent crimes committed were 1,058.8 per 100,000 people in California. In 2007 that same number dropped to 507.0 per 100,000 people. The results were very similar when you combine burglary and auto theft. That number in 1993 was 3,106.5 per 100,000 yet in 2007 the rate was 1,803.6 per 100,000 people in California. Additionally, murders in the Los Angeles area in 2010 were 297 as opposed to 1992 when the number was 1,000 homicides. The decrease has to be related to the fact that the bad guys were in prison.
Arguments against the original law or in favor of Proposition 36 present us with increased prison costs that can’t be allowed to continue to rise. However, they fail to explain the cost savings in reduced crime. Some sources indicate 3 million fewer victims, about 10,000 fewer murders and up to a total savings from reduced crime of $54 billion since the original law was implemented.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, in discussing their “Project Return, Breaking the Cycle of Crime,” indicates that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates, on average, “a criminal will cost victims $100,000 per year during the period following release from prison and, prior to being re-incarcerated, each recidivist will perpetrate these damages for an average of four years before getting caught.” We must remember, the perpetrator of a crime is not a victim. The person who the criminal took advantage of is the victim.
A convict who has a decades-old nonviolent burglary and a shoplifting arrest on his record may describe his latest crime as a “mistake.” First of all, the act of breaking the law is not a mistake, it is a decision. This person knew when he committed the third crime decades later that it would be considered a third offense. Obviously he thought the risk of 25 years to life was worth it. You may feel that a non-violent crime does not merit a third time strike, but just ask the person who was victimized how they feel about it as it may affect them for the rest of their lives.
Of course we would rather see our money spent on education than on prisons. Asking for shorter sentences for crimes due to the tremendous rise in prison costs since the 3 strikes law was enacted is not the answer. That argument could not be more wrong as the law did not increase prison costs, it actually has left government with more money to spend elsewhere.
It is a fact that if California releases 30,000 prisoners there will be more victims of crime from repeat offenders. You can deny it all you want, but releasing prisoners due to cost or reducing the original intent of the Three Strikes Law will result in more crimes, increase the number of victims and over the long run in chasing down, going through trials and re-incarcerating a repeat offender, victim and taxpayer costs will increase.
The long prison terms are very easy to avoid … don’t commit the crime!
www.lettertotheeditorblog.com Twitter: @TaylorPRamsey