An effort to limit California’s tough Three Strikes Law is gaining momentum, with a proposed ballot initiative that would reserve the toughest penalty — 25 years to life — for the baddest of the bad, including murderers, rapists, and child molesters, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The initiative, now under state legal review, was carefully crafted by a group of Stanford University law professors and stops far short of the extensive changes proposed under a previous reform measure that narrowly failed in 2004.
The legislature and voters passed the law in 1994 after several high-profile murders committed by ex-felons sparked public outrage, including the kidnapping from her home and strangling of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Since then, the courts have sent more than 80,000 “second-strikers” and 7,500 “third-strikers” to state prison. Though third-strikers make up just 6 percent of the prison population, they are responsible for a disproportionate share of the state’s spiraling prison health care costs — at least $100 million annually — as they age and need more medical attention. The previous measure sought to restrict felonies that trigger a “third” strike to violent or serious crimes. Under the existing law, life sentences have been issued for such relatively minor crimes as stealing a pair of socks and attempting to break into a soup kitchen. In contrast, the new initiative allows certain hard-core criminals, including murderers, rapists and child molesters, to be put away for life for any felony, including shoplifting, while restricting the third strike to a serious or violent felony for everyone else.