California’s Three Strike Law

In November of 1994 California passed legislation that would create mandatory sentencing of at least 25 years for a convicted criminals third felony. Other states followed and created similar laws that greatly increased repeat offenders jail time. The ultimate goal being that this would reduce the amount of violent crimes committed in these states. Studies were done statewide in California to determine if this program has been success or a failure in abating the number of serious felonies but they have only produced conflicting results about whether it is fixing the problem. Three strikes law has generated debate on its constitutionality and its overall affects on the states’ population.
The year before California enacted the three strikes law it had over 330,000 incidents of violent crime. Seven years later California’s violent crime rate has dropped to 210,000. The big issue here is that most criminologists do not connect the increase in sentencing to the decrease in crimes. Criminologists believe that the violent crimes that these laws set out to eliminate are something uncontrollable. Most violent crimes are not premeditated. The prospect of a life sentence is not going to deter people who are acting impulsively, under the influence, and without thought to the likely consequences of their actions.
Scenarios have arisen, especially in California where crimes involving shoplifting (shoplifting over $500 in property is a felony petty theft) have given defendants 25 years to life in prison. Gary Ewing was given 25 years for burglary and shoplifting golf clubs. Leandro Andrade received a double sentence of 25 years to life for 2 counts of shoplifting and one count of assault. Three strikes law states that the first and second strikes are counted by individual charges, rather than individual cases. A defendant can earn two strikes off of one criminal case. These instances have presented unique challenges to the law and make it difficult for supporters of it.
The increase in criminals being kept behind bars has put a huge strain on California’s state prison system which currently holds over 170,000 prisoners in custody in a system designed for 83,000.The state has had to spend billions of dollars creating more room and funding out of state privately run prisons which California has contracted. Aging prisoners kept in jail for life due to the three strikes law has shot the prison systems healthcare costs through the roof. Currently it costs around $20,000 per year to confine a physically fit offender. The cost of housing an older prisoner is almost three times the cost at $60,000 per year. These cost would be worth it if older prisoners presented a danger to society, but criminologists believe that age is the most powerful crime reducer.
Several cases involving the three strikes law have been taking to the U.S. Supreme Court aiming to reduce the number of outlandish cases putting defendants in jail for 25 to life, however the Supreme Court has upheld the rulings in Rummel v. Estelle which involved a man refusing to repay $120.75 for air conditioning repair the he deemed unsatisfactory. The 8th amendment to United States constitution prohibits the government from imposing excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.In Edwin v. California the Supreme Court held by 5-4 majority that the three strikes law does not violate the Eighth Amendment. In 2000 California amended there statute which scaled back by providing for drug treatment instead of life in prison for most of those convicted of possessing drugs after the amendment went into effect.
I think that three strikes laws should be immediately amended to redefine what a felony is. The number of criminals in state prisons needs to be decreased in order for California to rebound from its financial trouble even if it means letting go of older criminals convicted of violent crimes. Put elderly criminals on probation and remove petty felonys from being included in the three strikes laws.

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