The Skyline View

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Editorial – Three strikes law gets much-needed retooling

By Alyssa Koszis/The Skyline View

By Alyssa Koszis/The Skyline View

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The Three Strikes law convicts countless criminals with its blanket sentencing of a third felony offense. This law imposes tougher sentences on criminals who have repeatedly committed serious or violent crimes and has incapacitated many career criminals. However, crimes like petty theft don’t deserve a life sentence.

Habitual offenders such as gang members are allowed zero tolerance, however, not all criminals wield pistols or have face tattoos. While instrumental in stemming the tide of recidivism, “Three Strikes” is not specific enough to prevent gross injustices when dealing with appropriate sentencing. Proposition 36, is an initiative measure aimed at fixing these harsh sentences and it changes the final strike to being applied retroactively only toward serious and violent crimes. The amended law would be more lenient to minor crimes while maintaining harsh sentencing for convictions of: murder, weapon possession, rape, battery or child molestation as any of their three strikes.

Three felonies are plenty of room to recognize that crime doesn’t pay; however, blanket sentencing of a third offense felony can be cruel and unusual. A felony isn’t always a crime of graphic or disturbing nature as some Californians forget. Most of us will hear the term “felony” and immediately think of murderers, rapists and other legitimate terrors of society, but crimes such as petty theft, unarmed burglary and perjury are also considered felonies under state law. This leads to ridiculous sentences that equate kleptomaniacs with murderers.

This is unusual because the impact violent crime has on the victims and their families in effect, “justifies” harsh sentencing; convictions based on burglary put the same amount of value in a stolen article of clothing as a human life. This skewed sentencing pattern should be an insult to victims of serious and violent crimes such as rape, who see the same sentence given to a man who steals a loaf of bread. Many repeat offenders also use illicit drugs, which ruin their mental and financial situations, which force them to commit crimes just to feed their habit.

Another amendment to this law passed in 2000 (coincidentally named Proposition 36) allowed judges to sentence those convicted of possession of a controlled substance to go through mandated drug therapy programs in lieu of a prison sentence. This measure was aimed at keeping addicts out of jail and in therapy programs where they belonged to avoid overpopulation and exposure to career criminals who were in jail for serious and terrible crimes. The law needs to be focused on these career criminals who cause fear and terror, yet more lenient on individuals who are mentally impaired. Incapacitating a man who lives on the street next to the man who tries to be the warlord of that same street doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of justice.

Each case is different and judges already sentence based on severity of crime and variety of prior offenses. Consecutive felonies already garner harsher sentences, but a minimum of 25 years is just too much for some third strikes. A first offense crime that garners six months of jail time can become a life-ruining prison term for a third offense, regardless of the severity of the crime. A kleptomaniac and drug user that spends 25 years in prison will morph into a hardened and emotionally-isolated individual incapable of reform. Our current system has overpopulated prisons, made criminals even more dangerous, and ostracized individuals trying to reintroduce themselves back into the civilian population. Third time offenders need more than a slap on the wrist, but life imprisonment is a stalemate for individuals committing minor crimes because they are accustomed to squalor.

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Editorial – Three strikes law gets much-needed retooling