The “three-strikes” sentencing law passed by California voters in 1994 costs $500 million annually in prison expenses – far less than originally predicted – but there remains no consensus on whether it has made the streets safer, says a new study reported by the Los Angeles Times. The nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office said that that one-quarter of the state’s prisoners – about 40,000 men and women – are serving time for a second or third strike. Most are in prison for nonserious or nonviolent crimes, said the report’s author, Brian Brown.
California’s three-strikes law is by far the toughest among the 25 such measures in effect around the country. Under the law, a defendant convicted of a third felony can be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Critics have attempted to modify the law, but it remains popular with politicians and the public. Critics are most unhappy about a provision that permits any felony – not just a serious or violent crime – to be charged as a third strike. As a result, a shoplifter can be sentenced to 25 years to life if the thief has prior convictions.