Since the 1980s, California has built 21 prisons but not opened a single new state university of campus, writes Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in the Los Angeles Times. State spending for corrections exceeds $5 billion, which is greater than state spending for all public four-year colleges. One of the reasons is the 10-year-old “three strikes” law that is analyzed in a book reviewed by Krisberg, “Cruel Justice,” by journalist Joe Domanick. Krisberg says the book “recounts a fascinating story about how Californians embraced the harshest criminal sentencing system of any state and describes the personalities and groups that contributed to this result.” “Cruel Justice” is most compelling, says Krisberg, when it tells the stories of the criminals who are swept up in the law’s overreach.
Discussing motivations of the law’s supporters, Domanick paints a portrait of rural and small-town Californians enraged by a decline in civility supposedly brought about by the migration of people of color to California. He points to their hostile attitudes toward poor whites as well. These angry middle-class white men embrace a hard-edged approach to law enforcement and punishment. Domanick correctly labels three strikes as a ticking time bomb, Krisberg says, in the sense that ever more offenders become eligible for its lengthy sentences. Although some district attorneys are using the law more sparingly, this situation could change with each electoral cycle, or with the next media-hyped crime.