An estimated 6,000 people sentenced under California’s three strikes law have been freed or had their terms reduced since 2012, when Californians first voted to soften the law. In November, voters will be asked to toughen some measures that have made many inmates eligible to be considered for an early parole, reports the New York Times. The original law made it mandatory for anyone convicted of three felonies to serve 25 years to life if two of the prior crimes were serious or violent. In 2012, voters passed a measure requiring that all three offenses be violent or serious. As California tries to reduce its prison population further, law enforcement officials and victims’ rights advocates question whether the state has gone too far. They cite increases in the rate of some property and violent crimes, even though the overall number of crimes remains historically low.
“There has been a systematic dumbing down of our crime laws,” said Michael Reynolds, whose daughter, Kimber, 18, was fatally shot in 1992 as she fought two men trying to snatch her purse. After Reynolds learned both men had long criminal records, he worked with former judges to draft the three strikes law. There are people still in prison whose third offense was as minor as stealing a bicycle or shoplifting, said Michael Romano of Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, which has helped free 150 inmates sentenced under the law. A 2014 study found that the recidivism rate of released three-strikes inmates was 1.3 percent after 18 months, compared with 30 percent for all inmates. In November, voters will be asked to vote on the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2020, which aims to roll back some of the changes that reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and allowed for offenders considered nonviolent to be eligible for early parole.