Aging Behind Bars: New Report from The Sentencing Project Blasts California's Three-Strikes Law 8/24/01

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Sloganeering often makes for good politics but poor policy. "Zero tolerance" is one such example; "three-strikes-you're-out" is another. A new report from The Sentencing Project examines California's "three-strikes" law seven years and 50,000 prisoners after its enactment.

"Aging Behind Bars: 'Three Strikes' Seven Years Later" concludes from a wide range of data that that the law has not contributed to the reduction of crime in California, but has increased the number and severity of sentences for nonviolent offenders, who now make up two-thirds of the state's second and third "strike" sentences, carrying sentences of 25 years to life.

Three-strikes, according to the report, is rapidly expanding an aging and costly prison population, while other jurisdictions, including New York, Massachusetts, Washington, DC and New Jersey, have seen similar crime rate declines without instituting three-strikes laws.

"Aging Behind Bars" also presents examples of extreme sentencing disparities, for example:

  • Scott Benscoter had two prior felony convictions for residential burglary when he was sentenced to 25 years to life for the theft of a pair of sneakers.
  • Gregory Taylor, homeless, was sentenced to 25 years to life for trying to jimmy a church kitchen door for food.
  • Arthur Gibson, sentenced to 25 years to life for crack possession, had last been convicted of a violent offense in the 1960s.
Visit to read the report online, or call (202) 628-0871 to order a copy via mail.

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Issue #200, 8/24/01 Editorial: Random Marijuana | More Drug Prisoners Doing More Time in Federal Prison System, According to New Justice Department Report | Colombian Legislators Introduce Legalization, Cultivation Bills, Ask UN to Evaluate Global Anti-Drug Strategies | Jamaican Ganja Commission Calls for Decrim, Battle With US Brewing | Pressure Builds for Safe Injection Rooms in Vancouver as Canadian Medical Association Journal Studies Add Fuel to Fire | NIDA Ecstasy Conference Hears Harm Reduction Call | Aging Behind Bars: New Report from The Sentencing Project Blasts California's Three-Strikes Law | Hutchinson Takes DEA Mantle, Comments Elicit Confusion and Criticism | Hempfest Draws 100,000 in Seattle, Hempstock Draws the Cops in Maine | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
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