Organizers of an initiative that would undo some of the harshest provisions of California's "three-strikes" law have gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, the group announced this week. Under the state's three-strikes law, which mandates 25-to-life for third time felony offenders, thousands of prisoners are doing decades of prison time for nonviolent offenses. And it's official: The initiative is now listed as approved on the web site of the California Secretary of State.
Sponsored by Citizens Against Violent Crime (http://www.amend3strikes.org), the "Three Strikes and Child Protection Act of 2004" would require that only violent or serious felonies count as a third strike. Under the current law, people are doing 25-to-life for third strikes that included stealing a piece of pizza, stealing videos, and walking out of sporting goods store with a set of golf clubs without paying.
The initiative effort came about after the US Supreme Court in March 2003 upheld the laws (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/277/courtstrikesout.shtml). The sentences were not so grossly disproportionate as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision.
The initiative has been endorsed by a large number of political office-seekers, community leaders and organizations, ranging from the ACLU of Southern California and California NORML to the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles African-American Chamber of Commerce, as well as dozens of Democratic clubs statewide.
It appears to have strong support at this early stage. The Associated Press reported Thursday that a non-partisan Fielding Poll of voters on a variety of pending initiatives found the three-strikes challenge winning the approval of a whopping 76% of those polled, including 74% of Republicans. Although, led tough-on-crime politicians, Californians have for the past two decades gorged themselves on fear of crime and stuffed the state's prisons with nonviolent offenders -- including more than a thousand doing three-strikes sentences and dozens doing them for a marijuana offense – the expenses of maintaining those prisons has provided an opening for reformers.
But expect a tough fight from conservative politicians, powerful prison guard and police unions, and victims' rights activists, such as Mike Reynolds, the Fresno father of a murdered teen who helped write the three-strikes law. Visit his web site – http://www.threestrikes.org -- for a taste of what to expect.