Since California’s “three-strikes” law took effect in 1994, until yesterday, not a single inmate had won release from a 25-years-to-life sentence through a ruling by the state Board of Parole Hearings, says the Sacramento Bee. Some have got out through court intervention, but the vast majority have had no hope of winning parole until they serve at least 85 percent of the 25 years of their sentences, making three-strikes offenders ineligible for parole until 2016 at the earliest.
Yesterday, a parole board panel approved the release of a three-strikes inmate for the first time under a new law that allows inmates who are so ill they are incapacitated to be released to medical parole. Craig Lemke, 48, serving a 68-year sentence since 2007, is now considered to be on parole and will no longer be guarded. Guarding such inmates full time $2,123 a day (nearly $775,000 annually) on top of the estimated $1,000-per-day cost of providing care for the inmate. The new law is designed to save the state millions of those costs, as well as providing for the medical care of incapacitated inmates, which can top $1 million a year for an individual inmate. Lemke is one of five seriously ill three-strikes inmates – there are about 40 in total – that corrections officials were assessing to determine whether they may be eligible for a medical parole hearing. Eligible inmates are judged to be incapacitated or in a vegetative state that ensures they cannot pose a threat to the public.