A visitor sent us a link to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service not long ago. The NCJRS created a report, “Still Striking Out: Ten Years of California’s Three Strikes. To quote from Mike Reynold’s remarks, “It should be also noted that this organization has titled itself to look like an official government agency; in fact it is no more than a liberal think tank that has historically opposed ‘get tough laws.'” The NCJRS is related to the Justice Policy Institute, a spin off organization of George Soros’ Open Society Institute, clearly no friend of accepted American jurisprudence. Mike prepared some remarks to discount this fraudulent study. Continue reading.
Mike Reynolds has prepared answers to the most frequent objections , nine to be exact, in regard to Three Strikes.
First Objection –
It locks up petty thieves for life, pizza thieves, cookie thieves and even a guy who took 2 batteries for a flashlight.
While it is true a third strike does not have to be violent, it is also true that the first and second strikes do have to be serious or violent. It should also be noted that most serious and violent crimes are committed over the value of something rather small or insignificant. I would also suggest that an extraordinarily high probability exists that a twice convicted serious or violent felon will, given the chance, commit yet another serious or violent offense. A low level crime can and many times does become violent when the offender has a history of serious and violent convictions. Laws are about chances and who is going to get them. Three Strikes gives the 3rd chance to the next victim. Some choose to dwell on the value, or lack thereof, of an item stolen which becomes the trigger to impose a 3rd strike. Upon further examination, however, it is almost always true that the offender has a long and violent criminal history. Law enforcement and court statistics show that 60% to 80% of criminal cases are due to the same small number of criminals offending over and over again. If Three Strikes puts a repeat serious/violent felony offender behind bars for a less serious offense then it has saved a future victim and made the streets safer for us all.
Second Objection –
Three Strikes is jamming our prisons with non-violent offenders at a cost of $22,000 dollars per inmate per year.
When we first proposed Three Strikes, those opposed to it projected that California would need 20 new prisons within 5 years and would double the prison population to 245,000 inmates. Five years after the passage of Three Strikes, no new prisons have been built. Our actual prison population has held steady at roughly 160,000 inmates. There are not only fewer inmates than predicted during the fight to pass Three Strikes, the prison population is lower than projections of prison population growth prior to Three Strikes. In fact, the prison population is actually going down! Why is it dropping? Though cause and effect are hard to prove, the obvious and simple answer is less crime also means fewer criminals who would have been convicted for those crimes had they happened. Not only do fewer crimes equal fewer criminals, the reverse must also be true. Fewer criminals will equal fewer crimes. Certainly, Three Strikes has done its part in ridding our state of its most active criminals.
For too many years California’s prison system was comparable to a bucket with a hole in it. As the bucket filled with new inmates at the top they slipped out through the hole in the bottom after a rather short stay. What was not understood by most was that hole in the bottom was also the supply line that was refilling the bucket at the top. Three Strikes plugged the hole in the bottom and the bucket has not overflowed.
Opponents are quick to cite the expense related to incarceration, which is approximately $22,000 per inmate per year. This is true in California and is also close to the national average in estimated inmate costs. But there is also a cost involved in allowing criminals to walk our streets. That cost is not just measured in the blood and suffering of their victims, it is now measured in dollars and cents thanks to a first ever study by the US Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice, February 1996. The cost is broken down to both tangible and intangible loss and some surprising results demonstrate that reduced crime has a huge financial reward.
Each crime was assigned a dollar value based on the cost of apprehension, prosecution, incarceration, physical loss to victims, damage to property values, loss to businesses, etc. For example – each murder $2,140,000; each rape $86,500; each robbery $19,000; each assault $9,350 and each burglary $1,400.
When attaching a cost savings to these reduced crime numbers in California is it coincidence that the savings add up to almost exactly the amount by which California’s budget has increased? California’s budget was $55 billion in 1992 and 1993. In the year 2000 California’s budget has increased to $100 billion. Our state budget has doubled while its crime rates have been cut in half! It will be most interesting to see if this trend continues in coming years.
Third Objection –
Three Strikes is not fair! Some counties and some judges use Three Strikes sentencing guidelines more than others. San Francisco County hardly uses the law and yet crime in San Francisco has dropped as much or more than counties that aggressively use the law.
The only way to have identical application of Three Strikes is to have mandatory prosecution. This could and would treat every case exactly the same. No exceptions! The problem is that there are exceptions and special considerations in nearly all cases. This is why a prosecutor has the ability when a case is charged to reduce or drop a strike. The law reads, “The prosecuting attorney may move to dismiss or strike a prior felony conviction allegation in the furtherance of justice… or if there is insufficient evidence to prove the prior conviction.” The California Supreme Court has extended that same discretion to California’s judges in what is called the Romero Decision. At the last phase of a trial, after seeing all the evidence, a judge can reduce a striker’s sentence. This provides a double safety net in order to prevent a so-called “fall through the cracks” case from happening.
Another factor at work is that District Attorneys and Judges must be re-elected and thus their actions must be at the approval of the people they represent. No DA or judge whose actions run against the grain of common decency will be returned to office. Thus each county and its people therein reaffirm or repeal their support for the law every time they vote.
In San Francisco, for example, the District Attorney has expressed his support of Three Strikes but there is no question it is seldom used in that county. As a matter of fact, San Francisco County’s conviction rate of 34% is the worst in the state! This may have been a contributing factor in the extremely close race for District Attorney in the last election. The question has been asked, “Why has San Francisco’s crime dropped so much if criminals aren’t being prosecuted under Three Strikes guidelines in that county?”
San Francisco is a unique area. It is the only county/city combination in all of California. It is geographically small and, without question, one of the most expensive places to live in California and perhaps nationally. With everything at a premium, including housing, many people who do business or work in San Francisco commute from one of the surrounding counties. This includes criminals!
Criminals by their very nature are very transitory. By moving around, there is less chance of being caught and they can stay ahead of any pending warrants. When they are arrested for committing crimes in other counties, those counties absorb the cases that would have been in prosecuted in San Francisco. To use an analogy, if a room has four corners and you put a bug zapper in one corner, the entire room will have fewer bugs.
It should also be noted that federal courts have increased their criminal caseload in San Francisco by invoking and charging more crimes under the Hobbs Act.
Fourth Objection –
In 1994, when Three Strikes was on the ballot most people thought they were voting for a Three Strikes law that meant 3 violent felonies. They thought the third strike had to be violent. The voters were thus misled.
Time has a way of clouding the actual facts of how Three Strikes became law.
The legislative version of Three Strikes, AB971, sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Jones and Assemblyman Jim Costa, became state law when it was signed by then California Governor Pete Wilson, March 7, 1994. Within just a few days “strike” cases were coming in from all over the state. While all drew publicity, none was more visible than a man who stole a slice of pizza in southern California. “Pizza Man” made the news day after day throughout California, the United States and all over the world. If it hadn’t been before, it was certainly clear at that point that the third strike need not be a violent offense. Californians had 8 months of actual cases that made the news each day up to the November 11th election when they would have a chance to vote up or down on the identical Three Strikes ballot measure. In spite of a heavy campaign by the media to paint Three Strikes as a mean, nasty law that locked up pizza thieves for life, the voters passed Proposition 184 (Three Strikes) by 72%. Yes, they knew what they were voting for. If the vote were held today all polling indicates it would pass by an even greater margin.
Fifth Objection –
What about prevention and intervention?
Unlike other laws, which have multiple loopholes for criminals to slip through, the words “Three Strikes” have meaning and consequence to repeat offenders. Because this is one law that means what it says. Three Strikes and You’re Out! This has an enormous deterrent effect. If Three Strikes deters a criminal from committing a crime, that is prevention! For some reason, there has been a certain “touchy feely” preoccupation with prevention. Three Strikes is a bit like “tough love.” The type of offenders that Three Strikes applies to have long criminal careers that stand as a testimony to the failure of rehabilitation programs.
It is presumptuous and misguided to think that by putting someone through a program we can change a lifetime of criminal behavior. Change, if it is to happen, must come from within people themselves.
We are all familiar with the phrase “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The same must certainly be true of people. You can put people through program after program but without a true willingness on the part of the participant it becomes only a diversion from prison time. After the passage of Three Strikes I received many calls and comments from parole and probation officers, and others who work in the rehabilitation field. What they have said to me is that the offenders under their charge have a far greater level of compliance and an inner desire to turn their lives around. They’re more likely to test drug free, show up on time and make a sincere effort to change knowing that this could be their last chance to do so.
I like to think of Three Strikes as sorting the wheat from the chaff. Those who can get their lives turned around… will. Those who can’t have two choices – leave California or go to prison. The one thing we cannot allow is another victim to be part of their criminal therapy.
Sixth Objection –
Three Strikes is applied to minorities at a greater rate that the population as a whole.
It is true that minorities are charged with and prosecuted for crimes at a greater rate than white Americans. This is true of the entire criminal justice system, not just Three Strikes cases. It should also be noted that victims of violent crime are also most often from the minority community. In California, one out of every 18 citizens is black. One out of every 4-murder victims is also black.
As crime rates have dropped in the six years since the passage of Three Strikes, the greatest drops have occurred in minority communities. The homicide rate among African-Americans has dropped far faster (-52.0% since 1990, -6.7% in 1999 alone) and further than the population as a whole (see the CA State CJSC site). All citizens, without regard to ethnicity, should have a right to the same level of justice and the same level of public safety under the law.
To continue to allow crime to flourish in our minority neighborhoods is to condemn the children that are trying to grow up there. When a child is more worried about getting home alive than getting home to do homework, there is little chance for a normal and productive life.
Seventh Objection –
How do you justify crediting The California Three Strikes sentencing law for the drop in crime throughout the United States?
Keep in mind California has a population of over 30 million people. That is not only the largest state in the United States, but twice the population of the next biggest state. When California crime drops at twice the national rate, and it has (see report by James Ardaiz, Chief Justice of the Fifth District Court of Appeals) it literally brings down the national rate as well.
Only three states, all with major populations, have seen crime reductions of this magnitude. All three have seen these drops as a result of getting tough on crime and criminals.
California has Three Strikes, New York City has added 38,000 new police officers (which has affected the entire state’s crime rate) and Texas is building prisons and executing convicted killers at a record setting pace. These states are reducing their own crime rates and causing big drops in the national statistics as a result.
While not at the pace California is keeping, crime in all states has been in decline! In 1994, along with California’s Three Strikes law, the federal government also passed a crime package to implement a federal Three Strikes law, hire 100,000 new police and provide funding for states that passed a truth in sentencing law mandating that violent criminals serve 85% of their sentences before being eligible for parole. The most important and effective part of that package was the truth in sentencing aspect.
Most states were initially reluctant to force inmates to serve 85% of their sentences for financial reasons. But this one factor – more than any other in my opinion – has been responsible for keeping convicted violent criminals behind bars in non-Three Strikes states and is responsible for the drop in crime in those states.
Eighth Objection –
When 3-Strikes uses prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, it is not fair because many times these convictions were part of a plea bargain arrangement that had the defendant known they would be later used as strikes they would have asked for a jury trial.
Plea bargains are the norm – not the exception. In California it is used over 90% of the time.
A plea bargain by its very nature is the reduction of a given count or the reduction of the level of the offense. For example, from first-degree murder to second degree murder or manslaughter or reduction of attempted murder to aggravated assault.
In past cases, when a prior serious or violent conviction has taken place as a result of a “plea bargain,” rest assured that had actual charges been pressed to the fullest extent of the law the offender would be far more likely to acquire multiple strikes as well as far greater time in prison. The option of going to a jury trial is always a roll of the dice.
A plea bargain is not a dice roll. Defendants get their break right there and then.
What is counted as a prior strike will never be an issue for those who choose to stop doing crime.
Ninth Obejction –
This article points out that 4% of the California prison population is now over 55 years old. It furthermore shows that medical costs have nearly doubled in 7 years.
Questions this article raised but did not answer.
1. What is the ratio of over 55 years of age in other states’ prisons?
2. What percentage of the general population is over 55 and how much has that average gone up over the same time?
3. Medical costs like all other costs have gone up over the last 7 years. Is the increase a direct result of normal inflation across the board?
Let’s face it. Everyone has to be somewhere.
If elderly and infirm inmates were out of prison they would be in our hospitals and nursing homes, all of which would be paid by the state of California medical program – including all medication.
When using the obvious alternative, prison is the best, least costly option.
Also noteworthy in the article is the assumption that being 55 years of age is elderly and aged.
The most significant part of this so-called study gives 3-Strikes credit for this increase in old inmates. If so, then it must also give 3-Strikes credit for stabilizing the overall prison population growth that is now seeing a decline. A tribute to 3-Strikes and prison population is the fact that California built 19 new prisons 10 years BEFORE 3-Strikes and has built NONE after 3-Strikes – less crime also means fewer criminals.
When criminals don’t serve out their time it sends a message that harsh penalties aren’t enforced, thus defeating the deterrent effect of tough laws.
Final Thoughts –
While no issue is the without its proponents and opponents, Three Strikes has earned the support of those have had an objective “let’s wait and see what this law will do” attitude. Any law or policy that results in lower crime and reduced prison population can’t be a bad thing.
Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson said the first duty of government is the protection of its people. Sixty years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt talked about the 4 freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Historically, when great societies have been destroyed the source of its destruction has come from within. It’s the war that is being waged on our streets that has become the modern day threat to America.
When crime rates go up people move to “safer” places. They take their families, their jobs and their contribution to the local tax base. Those who can’t leave buy guns and hunker down with bars on their windows, razor wire on their fences and bricks and sandbags next to their walls. Businesses can’t stay open when they are being robbed and vandalized every night and their customers are being mugged and intimidated. Crime is a cancer that, left unchecked, will ruin every city in America.
We often speak about the “war” on crime. If this is a war then it should be fought like a war. Many would argue that the United States’ biggest mistake in Vietnam might have been going there in the first place. But once there, it is certain that our biggest mistake was an unwillingness to fight with a resolve to win. It was unfair to send soldiers to a war that no one intended to win.
It’s unfair now to send our police and law enforcement community to fight a war on crime that politicians have no will to win. It’s a sad testimony to the nature of man that laws like Three Strikes are necessary. Crime and criminals have plagued every society on earth since the dawn of time. The only difference is in the last 50 years there has been an element in our society that has attempted to explain and excuse criminal behavior based on some aspect of early childhood development gone wrong or the lack of enough of society’s resources being spent to prevent a child from becoming a criminal.
Facts are facts. For every 1000 people there will be a certain number who choose crime as a career. But if we allow that career to continue … that is our choice.
Our tolerance grows shorter as crime comes closer and becomes more violent. I always thought violence was something that happened to someone else. Statistics did not mean much until my daughter became a murder victim. Two men on parole and high on methamphetamine murdered Kimber. Their criminal behavior dated back to grade school with a trail of crimes, convictions and victims that was a testimony to a justice system gone wrong.
Those times are gone and so are the criminals who blazed their trail of blood and destruction throughout our state. I pray that we never lose our vigilance. The enemies of Three Strikes are all around us, and most of them have never committed a crime. They are members of the liberal news media, they serve in our state and federal government, they teach in our schools and colleges. They have already proposed laws to eviscerate Three Strikes and will continue to do so. They are not bad people… but they have been given eyes and yet cannot see. Thinking they are acting out of goodness, they will gladly undo all we have accomplished and lead our state back to the dark days from which we have emerged.