Supporters of Proposition 36 are optimistic that changing attitudes toward prison reform, coupled with economic considerations, will have Californians voting in favor of tempering their state’s controversial repeat offender law, known as “Three Strikes and You’re Out,” in the upcoming November election.
“Popular support has always been high for reforming Three Strikes,” says Prop. 36 advocate Geri Silva, director and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes. “People realize that sending someone to prison for life for stealing a donut is absurd.”
Backers of Prop.36 had no trouble gathering the 504,760 signatures required by law to get their measure on the state ballot – about 800,000 people signed the petition — and a recent statewide survey conducted by Pepperdine University’s policy school shows 78.1 percent of likely voters supporting it.
The sense of urgency among voters to reform Three Strikes, suggests Silva, can be attributed to prison overcrowding and soaring state spending on incarceration in the midst of a historic budget crisis.
The political climate in California and public attitudes toward prison reform were very different in 1994 when the Three Strikes Initiative, Proposition 184, passed in a landslide with 72 percent of the popular vote. The initiative benefited in part from public fear and anger over the highly publicized kidnapping, rape and murder of 12 year-old Polly Klaas the previous year.
Proposition 184 imposed a mandatory 25 years to life prison sentence for anyone in the state convicted of a third felony, including non-violent offenses like drug possession and theft.
Today, twenty-six other states have similar sentencing laws on the books, but California’s Three Strikes law is widely considered one of the most severe.
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