California's Prop 36 Would Scale Back Three Strikes Law

New changes would limit use of Three Strikes, a law that has slammed minorities

Oct 10, 2012— -- California voters will decide whether to scale back the state's "three strikes" law, which allows prosecutors to press for 25-years-to-life sentences for anyone with a third felony conviction.

Proposition 36, which is on the Novemeber ballot, would revise the law limiting third strike felonies to serious or violent crimes only.

Proponents say the change would align Three Strikes with its original intent by locking up only the most violent criminals. It would also save the cash-strapped state up to $100 million per year.

The law would also allow current prison inmates to appeal their sentences if their third strike was non-violent. More than 4,691 are currently serving life under the Three Strikes law for non-violent crimes. About 3,000 would benefit from the change, according to the Committee for Three Strikes Reform.

Currently in California, African Americans and Latinos are imprisoned under Three Strikes at far higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. The Latino rate of incarceration under the Three Strikes law was 82 percent higher than whites. Incarcerations among African American under the same law s is almost 1,300 percent higher than whites.

Jerry Dewayne Williams made international headlines when stealing a slice of pizza that landed him his third strike (although a judged released him after five years). Williams, who has been convicted for drug possession, vehicle theft and robbery, admitted he was "walking on eggshells."

As the Los Angeles Times put it, "Williams' story since his release offers fuel to both backers and opponents of three strikes."

The Three Strikes laws have been associated with a decline in felony crimes and murders nationwide, a study found. Even though California's law is one of the toughest and most frequently used, it hasn't been any more effective in reducing crime.

The measure has broad support among law enforcement, elected officials and institutions. SFGate.com reported overwhelming public support as well.

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