In California, there is a serious attempt of controlling crime. Various laws have been enacted to control the criminals who are repeatedly being caught for serious crimes. Penal Code 1170.12 (Proposition 184) was one such law passed by the citizens in March 1994 to deal with the criminals. The Penal Code is popularly known as "Three Strikes and you are out." It all started when Mike Reynolds drafted legislation in response to his daughter Kimber Reynolds being murdered by a career criminal. The bill was killed in the committee itself. (Vitiello, 1997) Then Reynolds started collecting signatures to get the bill through. In the meantime, another innocent 12-year-old girl Polly Klaas was kidnapped during a slumber party, and subsequently murdered. Here also the criminal was a prior criminal with conviction for kidnapping and burglary. This became an emotional issue and the law came into effect in 1994 in California as a result of the crime hysteria being produced by the media and politicians and thus emphasizing the power of public opinion. (Schulardi, 1994)
The law prescribes those criminals who are caught for a third serious crime is locked up for a period ranging from 25 years to life. Normally, the first two strikes have to be serious felonies; the third one can be practically any crime. For a second crime, the sentences are automatically doubled. The law also clearly states that the sentences can be served only in prison and not on probation. (www.rand.org) The law was believed to bring the maximum reduction that can be earned by these criminals to only 20% of the time they are sentenced for against the normal reduction in time of up to 50%. This law was expected to reduce serious crime by adults in California from 22 to 34%. (Schultz, 2000) Some of the crimes to be eliminated were to be ones causing great physical harm like murder, rape and assaults. These now constitute about one third of the crimes eliminated. The other two thirds to be eliminated were to be robberies, burglaries in residences and crimes like that. The cost of implementing this law was to be an extra $4.5 billion to $6.5 billion. The annual budget for this activity is $4.8billion. (Schultz, 2000) This was to be spent in new prisons to be built and operated to lock up the people convicted. These costs are net and no reduction may be expected in reality. The citizens of California have to decide whether they should agree to pay these charges.
Now let us look at some of the people who are being convicted under the three strikes law. Caught for the crime of possessing Cocaine, which was less than even a gram, a 38-year-old man, Jona Rottenberg, was seemed fit to be convicted under the California Three-strike law. This was because when he was arrested the third time he had already 13 years of conviction for the crime of purse snatching. The California Three-Strike laws which suggests that while the first strikes and the second strikes should be crimes of violent nature- in which purse-snatching is a violent crime and the third crime can be anything, makes Rottenberg all fit to be able to be convicted to 25-years of imprisonment, in prison. (Los Angeles Magazine, August 1999)
Los Angeles public defender Alex Ricciardulli says that Rottenberg's case, "shows how the three-strikes law is misapplied. The whole idea is to keep violent felons off the street. [Rottenberg] is not going out and killing people -- he is hurting himself." (Los Angeles Magazine, August 1999) This particular case highlights one of the problems with the law and the proposed law. The third felony in this case is not really comparable to the previous crimes. He was not likely to hurt anyone. Actually, his drug addiction had come from one of his previous crimes and it may have been better to put him into compulsory treatment for drug addiction rather than in prison for the next 25 years. This is a fairly recent case having taken place in August 1999.
Let me now point out another case under the California 'Three-Strike' law. On Nov. 4, 1995, 'Leandro Andrade and a female friend entered a Kmart store in Ontario, California. "Andrade looked around, selected some videotapes and stuffed them inside his trousers," reads the state's petition to the Supreme Court. (Kirkland, 2002) The value of the items stolen was $84.70 when they were arrested. Two weeks later when this charge was still pending, the same Leandro and two female friends tried to steal from a Kmart store in Montclair, Calif. To steal more videos, which had a worth of $68.84. Under the California's three-strikes law, a state jury in San Bernardino, California, convicted Andrade of two counts of petty theft and determined he had committed "three prior serious or violent felony convictions." (Kirkland, 2002)
Leandro was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life by the state judge. This is another case under the three strikes law. A Federal Appeals court finally reversed the decision on appeal as the court felt that the punishment was too high for the stealing of nine videotapes. The question that one must look at is why the Californian taxpayer should pay so high charges for providing imprisonment to people like Leandro Andrade who are caught for minor cases. It may be better to put him in a correctional facility so that he can be trained to lead a better life and given some job training so that he can earn a decent living. It is possible that he has just been brought up wrong and his sense of values need correction.
It should be noted here that though the law was formulated with the intention of controlling and preventing crimes, for over 40 percentages of the criminals imprisoned for more than 25 years under the California 'Three-strike' laws had their third crimes, which were non-violent in nature. (Current Events, December 2002) This is the problem with this law. It has provided a strict punishment without really looking at the possibility that a lot of small time offenders may get pulled in as a result of such a harsh law. But according to Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy the Court should not concentrate on how minor the crime of the third-strike was. He says the law "provides simple, clear notice" of severe punishment for a third strike." (Current Events, December 2002) Such a policy would lose its value if the court concentrates on how much severe the third crime was. The U.S. Supreme Court is reluctant to overturn California's 'Three Strike law' even if that strike would be theft of children's videotapes of $153.54. (Gazette, November 12, 2002) But we could see that the law, which was framed, to deal with violent habitual offenders has led to many non-violent offenders being imprisoned, since a majority of the offenders are non-violent. And to allow the continued application of the law for non-violent third offenders will only aggravate the criticisms against the law, which are already present.
The 'three strikes' law has had a profound effect on California since 1994. Supporters of the law have said that the law was necessary to stop hardened criminals from committing further crimes. They have said that these criminals would be locked up in prison and thus not be able to commit further crimes. But, that has not happened. While some hardened criminals have been caught, a lot of much less harmful characters have also been put in prison for 25 years. This has led to dangerous crowding in the prisons and it is possible that short time prisoners may ultimately be released early to create space. This is dangerous as some of them are likely to return to crime not…