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'3 Strikes': Proposed Law Tries To Restore Intent

Publication Date: 
November 28, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
Marisa Lagos

The Three Strikes Project was featured in this San Francisco Chronicle story for its role representing the NAACP, which is sponsoring a ballot measure to reform California's Three Strikes law.

As California braces for more budget cuts and moves forward with a plan to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates, opponents of the state's "three strikes and you're out" law are preparing to ask voters to make major changes to the harsh sentencing mandate.

Supporters of a proposed ballot measure say it would narrow the three-strikes mandate to what voters wanted all along: a law that keeps murderers, rapists and child molesters in prison for life and doesn't leave low-level, nonviolent offenders languishing behind bars for decades.


Mike Romano, a Stanford University law professor, said statistics show that people serving life sentences for a nonviolent, third strike offense are much less likely to commit another violent crime than other felons. Four percent qualify as high risk of committing a violent crime if released, compared with 20 percent of the total prison population, according to state assessments.

Five years ago, Romano founded the Three Strikes Project, in which law students help to appeal cases of nonviolent offenders who have received a third strike conviction. They have succeeded in reducing sentences for about 25 inmates, he said, and are representing the ballot measure's official sponsor, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The state assessments show that "nonviolent third-strikers are the least likely to re-offend of any group in prison," Romano said, in part because older people are less likely to commit crimes. At the same time, he said, they tend to be the most expensive to keep imprisoned because they are getting older and their medical costs are skyrocketing.


Romano stressed that the normal checks and balances of the criminal justice system will remain in place if the law is passed.

Offenders "will have to go before a judge and show they are not a danger to the community before their sentence can be reduced by one day," he said. "And if you do eliminate a life sentence, (taxpayers) get 30 years of cost savings."