Proposition 36 gives the California electorate another opportunity to weigh in on the state’s 18-year-old “three-strikes” law, the nation’s toughest career-criminal sentencing statute, says the Sacramento Bee. Twice in as many decades, voters have sided in favor of a three-strikes law that allows judges to impose a life prison term for offenders who commit a third felony – no matter how minor – if they have two previous serious or violent criminal convictions on their records. Proposition 36 proponents want to restrict the 25-years-to-life sentences, with some exceptions, to criminals whose third felony was serious or violent; nothing less than a residential burglary would qualify as a strike.
The measure would enable an estimated 3,000 of the 8,873 prisoners serving 25-years-to-life terms in the state as of June 30 to apply for resentencing hearings. If their motions for new terms are granted, a good number of those 3,000 prisoners could go free. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates Proposition 36 could save the state anywhere from $70 million to $90 million a year in reduced prison costs. Billionaire financier George Soros is supporting the measure with $500,000. David Mills, a Stanford law professor and private investment manager, matched and raised the contribution. Mills, a co-chair of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, put in $878,000. He believes the sentencing measure’s “dramatic effect on poor people and African Americans” makes it one of the leading civil rights issues of the day.