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A Possible Answer To California’s Prison Woes

Publication Date: 
September 09, 2013
The New York Times - Opinion Pages
Jesse Wegman

A new report co-published by the Stanford Three Strikes project is profiled in this New York Times Editor's Blog. The report analyzes the impact of Proposition 36 and proposes recommendations to address outstanding issues regarding the proposition’s implementation.

Earlier today California officials announced a tentative deal to resolve the state’s years-long prison overcrowding crisis. At the same time, Stanford University researchers released a report suggesting that an important part of the solution may reside in Proposition 36, the 2012 ballot initiative which allowed for the release of some of the state’s “Three Strikes” prisoners.

The Three Strikes law, passed in 1994, mandated a life sentence for anyone who committed a felony, no matter how minor, after committing two “serious” felonies, which could be anything from purse-snatching to murder. More than 9,000 inmates have been incarcerated under the law. But Californians slowly lost their appetite for harsh sentencing, and last year voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop 36, which permits an inmate whose third strike was a non-serious, nonviolent offense to petition for early release. The new law does not cover anyone convicted of murder, rape or child molestation, nor does it reach the state’s more than 30,000 “Two Strikers,” who have committed a felony of any kind after committing one serious felony.