California’s “three strikes” law is best known for locking up career criminals for life, but the vast majority of offenders serving prison time under the sentencing mandate were actually charged under the less-noticed second-strike provision, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. These 32,390 inmates are serving sentences that were doubled as a strike-two penalty, and they account for nearly 20 percent of the state’s prison population. Yet most efforts to reform the law have focused exclusively on the third-strike provision, which carries with it a mandatory 25 years-to-life sentence.
As prison costs in California continue to grow, and the state faces a Supreme Court order to reduce its inmate population by more than 30,000 over the next two years, the tens of thousands of second-strikers appear to pose a bigger challenge to state officials attempting to rein in prison costs than the 8,700 people serving time for a third strike. Said UC Berkeley’s Barry Krisberg, “It is having an enormous impact on our prison population, and many second-strikers are serving more time than third-strikers, but when people talk about the policy of reforming three strikes, nobody wants to touch the second strike.”