The clock is still ticking on California’s Three Strikes and You’re Out Law. Space to keep criminals in prison was still a concern in 2010 like it was in 1994, the year California’s citizens voted to approve the law in Proposition 184, when prison overpopulation and thriving crime were both one of the stories that caught the people’s attention. But, far more repeat criminals stood in prison instead of out in the streets.
The goal of keeping the repeat criminals behind bars for long stays in prison proved a success over the 15 years the law made criminals pay with a heavy punishment.
Hardened Criminals No Longer Live Each Man for Himself
Dark corruption that was publicized in California’s major cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, during the mid-1990s became a strong focus in politics on how to fix criminal behavior in the state’s communities. Hardened criminals that robbed drivers of their cars at gunpoint for a gang act and killers that put another notch in their belt after a prison release made it a high priority to put them away for good. The run away crime rates gave the people who passed Prop 184 more than enough justification for lowering the risk of encountering a dangerous stranger on the streets.
Instead of holding court trials for the same convicted criminals, the criminal justice professionals can put away Californians who commit their 2nd and 3rd strikes for long prison sentences. Sentence lengths simply do not compare to those handed down before the law was passed. Offenders who have two or more convictions for serious and violent felonies and commit a third felony face a real possibility of spending the rest of their life in prison on a life sentence and at the least a guaranteed 25 years. The conviction prevents any returns to a life of crime. A prison punishment that lasts twice as long as the sentence for the crime is given to criminals convicted of their second serious offense.
The growth in jail populations that came early in 1994 and 1995 started to make corrections officials worry the overpopulation problem would grow worse, as many had expected. Jail inmates were released in the tens of thousands to make room for the 2nd and 3rd strikers. California, however, was still safer. The most serious criminal replaced the lesser threats and the least hardened in the cells.
During the time the population of repeat offenders convicted under the new law began to grow from 11 percent towards 20 percent, jail administrators learned to let out at least one lesser offender for each serious one they took in. Maximum jail occupancy left no other choice.
Still Locked Up and Sealed In
The total prison population is not close to the 100,000 inmates that were in California prisons in 1991, twenty years ago. Prisoners totaled 168,000 at the time 2009 turned to 2010. The opportunity prosecutors and judges took to keep repeat offenders locked up for long sentences produced a large part of the growth. Near 32,500 second strikers and 8,570 3rd strikers were kept guarded within prison walls. The doors bolted tight.
Locked up criminals serving out their three strikes law sentence typically are offenders that follow or surprise their victims to commit their crimes against their person. Robbers and those that commit aggravated assault. Their numbers totaled around 14,200 on their 2nd strike and 4,000 on their third strike. Joining them in a life behind a prison’s walls, there were criminals that committed grand theft auto and one of the other property crimes that the state calls a serious felony. Eight thousand and two hundred in for a 2d strike that was a property crime and 2,300 for their 3rd strike.
Despite the detractors that say the law made it necessary to kick violent criminals out of prison to make room for drug offenders, the drug offender counts ranked a solid third. Drug dealing and large possession felonies were the crimes that made these Californians give up their lives free. Third strike offenders were counted at 1,300 and second strikers at 6,100.
Other serious felonies that proved a criminal habit gave judges the justification to make around 3,800 2nd strike offenders and 700 3rd strikers pay the price.
A Permanent Security
Full length sentences made the counts of criminals behind bars and out of communities make it plain there are serious consequences for criminal habits in California. Security in the communities is still in store. The criminals that average from their late 30s to late 40s in age have sentences that will last for years to decades. Even the rest of their life.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Corrections: Year At A Glance (Fall 2010).