Yes on Prop 36

by Geri Silva

Prop 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012, will be on the November 2012 ballot! California’s Three-Strikes law, studies show, has significantly contributed to the increase in California’s prison population with its long, 25-years-to-life sentences. Nearly two thirds of the second or third strikers have been incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.

According to the Justice Policy Institute, Three Strikes has had a disparate impact on Blacks. With only 7 percent of California’s population, Blacks comprise 45 percent of the Third Strikers.

The iconic “pizza thief” who got 25 years for stealing a piece of pizza was a Black man, Jerry DeWayne Williams.

This ballot measure will amend the current Three Strikes law as follows:

  • Eliminates life sentences for most minor, non-violent, non-serious crimes, such as petty theft and simple drug possession. Defendants who commit violent or serious crimes will continue to receive life sentences.
  • Provides that repeat offenders who commit a new non-violent, non-serious crime receive double the ordinary sentence instead of a life term.
  • Prisoners currently serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes can apply for a sentence reduction. A judge can reduce the life sentence to a term of years no less than double an ordinary sentence if the judge determines that the sentence reduction would not cause “an unreasonable risk to public safety.”
  • Exception: Any defendant who has ever been convicted of an extremely violent crime, such as rape, murder or child molestation, will receive a life sentence no matter how minor their third strike crime.

The ballot measure makes no changes to the rules for “second strike” sentences.

Cost savings:

  • The state auditor estimates that the current Three Strikes law costs the state at least $200 million per year to incarcerate inmates convicted of non-serious, non-violent crimes.
  • This ballot measure will save the state $150 to $200 million per year by eliminating the cost of incarcerating and paying health care costs for aging non-violent, low risk inmates.

Re-sentencing provision:

  • Prisoners currently serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes that would not result in a life sentence under the new law can apply for a sentence reduction. A judge must reduce the prisoner’s life sentence to a term of years no less than double an ordinary sentence unless the sentence reduction would cause “an unreasonable risk to public safety.”
  • The burden is on the prosecution to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the prisoner is an unreasonable risk to public safety. The prisoner must be re-sentenced to the shorter sentence if the prosecution cannot meet this burden.
  • A prisoner will have a right to a court-appointed attorney at any re-sentencing hearing. All relevant evidence can be considered at the sentencing hearing, including but not limited to: prison disciplinary records (both positive and negative reports), health records, family support, sobriety and employment prospects.

An estimated 3,000 inmates will be eligible for a new sentence under this initiative. While this measure is more conservative than Prop 66, it reflects what the ballot authors wanted AND it’s what we have. So, we shoot for an overwhelming victory with Prop 36 in order to carry the fight to abolish the law beyond November 2012!

As we’ve known for over 10 years, the voters overwhelmingly support reform. But, the cruel lesson learned with Prop 66 in 2004 is that an uneducated, uninformed public can and will be swayed by fear-laced lies.

That’s where we, you and I, come in!

There’s something for everyone to do:

For us at FACTS, it’s all about outreach, voter registration and voter education. That means public forums, town halls, Three Strikes Sundays, speaking at colleges and universities, tabling at events, house parties, going in groups of three or four to parks and setting up tables – we’re always registering new voters – taking sign-in sheets wherever we go and recruiting new folks to be involved in the campaign, getting lawn signs up, hitting up local businesses, churches and schools to put up signs in windows, on counters and bulletin boards, and holding barbecues, bake sales and voter registration and voter education events.

If you or your loved one would like to get busy with one of our chapters or representatives in cities throughout the state or if you want to play an individual role in your community, please call us at (213) 746-4844.

Geri Silva is a founding member of Families to Amend California Three Strikes – FACTS – and the Fair Chance Project. She is an active participant in California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement.