The battle over California’s Proposition 66, which would greatly reduce the number of felons eligible for sentencing under the “three strikes and you’re out law,” a battle of competing horror stories, says the Los Angeles Times: “punishments that don’t fit the crime versus the toll exacted by career criminals.” In Santa Barbara last week, those opposing changes displayed mug shots of third-strikers who would be eligible for reduced sentences. Still, many Californians appear inclined to reconsider the measure. A Field Poll last month found nearly seven in 10 likely voters said they would vote to change the law, with the numbers for both Republicans and Democrats well above the threshold for passage.
Proponents of the measure, who include prominent civil rights and religious organizations, call some punishments meted out under three-strikes sentencing requirements “cruel and unusual.” They argue that minorities have been disproportionally affected and that the state is spending tens of millions of dollars to incarcerate petty thieves and drug addicts who are no real threat to society. Opponents, who point out that two of the strikes must have been violent or serious to trigger a term of 25 years to life, say the cost of crime to victims and their families is immeasurable. They say that if voters change the law, some of those released will kill again. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Bill Lockyer are among the prominent politicians urging voters to defeat the measure. Jerry Keenan, an insurer whose son was sentenced under three stsrikes, has given $1.7 million to the pro-Proposition 66 campaign. Californians United for Public Safety, an anti-Proposition 66 group, has reported more than $177,000 in contributions, most from the powerful state prison guards union.