A Los Angeles County judge responsible for reconsidering the life prison terms of more than 1,000 offenders sentenced underCalifornia’s three-strikes law began the process yesterday at a hearing where he reduced the punishments for five inmates convicted of relatively minor crimes, reports the Los Angeles Times. Among those given shorter sentences was a 74-year-old who has served more than 15 years for possessing $10 worth of drugs and an 81-year-old behind bars for more than 17 years for stealing dozens of packs of cigarettes. The hearing came three months after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which softened California’s tough three-strikes law and allowed many inmates sentenced for non-serious and nonviolent offenses to ask for shorter prison terms.
Prosecutors said none of the five inmates posed an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” Under the new law, judges must reduce the sentences for eligible inmates unless doing so would endanger the public. Prosecutor Beth Widmark argued that the inmates should be placed under the supervision of probation officers after they are released. Judge William Ryan acknowledged that such supervision would probably enhance public safety. He said he could not legally place the offenders on supervision because they had already served well beyond their new terms and any period of supervision that would normally have followed their prison stint.