A ballot measure aimed at California’s “three strikes” sentencing law may be an opportunity for the state to put a dent in the high cost of aging inmates, Reuters reports. The American Civil Liberties Union and other prison-reform advocates point to three-strikes laws as the prime driver for an increase in older inmates. Older prisoners are less likely to re-offend, advocates argue, and many can be safely released to ease prison overcrowding.
Even with a Supreme Court order, and in a tough budget climate, where reducing the prison population could bring savings, success for reformers in November is far from assured. “Three strikes has sort of become a sacred cow, sort of this litmus test on ‘how law and order are you’ in California,” said Gloria Romero, the former state Senate majority leader whose 2006 bill to relax three strikes died awaiting a floor vote. Greg Totten, the district attorney in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, said the vast majority of state prosecutors will likely oppose any softening of three strikes. “The advocates of reform don’t want to talk about the crime and the criminal,” said Totten, who opposes reform. “You see an aging prisoner, as they get older they probably look a little more sympathetic, a little less threatening.” Almost 125,000 prisoners around the country are 55 and older.