Californians need to reassess the “sanity and efficacy” of laws like “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing, says editorial page editor John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle. A $20 billion-plus state deficit and overcrowding conditions that are inviting federal court intervention “should be strikes one and two against an initiative that went too far and, too often, in curiously wrong directions,” says Diaz. More than half of the third “strikes” that have triggered a 25-to-life sentence involve neither serious nor violent felonies. Overall, 8,700 California inmates are serving life sentences under three strikes.
While some criminals do deserve three-strikes sentences, there are overzealous prosecutors in some counties that get such penalties for “sad-sack or drug-addicted offenders whose crimes would otherwise merit probation or short incarcerations,” Diaz says. Politicians who have tried to tone down the law have resisted being painted as soft on crime, says former state Sen. Gloria Romero. Since the 1960s, sentencing law has been a “one-way ratchet” upward, noted Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California Irvine School of Law at a symposium last week on the “three strikes” law sponsored in Los Angeles by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.