A Fresh Look

A few small changes in “Three Strikes” could mean large savings.

21 January 2004

Even as crime rates have fallen, California’s prison population has grown-from, 115,000 a decade ago to a little more than 160,000 today. More than half those inmates have been sent to prison for nonviolent offenses, drug-related and property crimes mostly.

It’s time for California to take-another look at its incarceration policies. We offer this idea as part of our occasional series of editorials aimed at generating a public discussion on issues affecting the future of California.

Approximately 6,500, prison inmates are 55 years or older; some 1,200 are over 65. Because they are more likely to suffer from serious health problems, older inmates are more expensive to house. When paroled, they also represent a significantly lower crime risk. A minuscule 1.4% of inmates paroled after age 55 are sent back to prison because they commit new crimes. That compares with a re-offense rate of more than 50% for 18-to 29-year-olds.

With prison guards costing close to $100,000 apiece and a mushrooming corrections budget that threatens to squeeze off funding for higher education, roads, mental health and other vital services, California can no longer afford to lock up felons who pose no serious threat to public safety.

The California “Three Strikes” law does not have to be repealed, but it does need to be modified to allow nonviolent and elderly inmates to earn parole faster. That makes sense for the safety of the citizenry and the pocketbooks of taxpayers.

The state’s leaders need way of thinking about our issues and problems and this is an idea, that should be part of the public debate. We look forward to hearing from you on this proposal. It’s an important part of the debate on the future of California.

National Institute of Justice study on the costs of victimization in America.

A lengthy in depth study of the costs of victimization by the National Institute of Justice.