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Amending California Three Strikes Law Right Move

by Todd A. Smith

 

Three Strikes Shouldn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Out

            Aaron Collins, a 46-year-old African American male, thought he would have to spend the rest of his life behind bars.  Collins faced such dire straits, not because he was a violent murderer, but because of the California Three Strikes Law.

            According to CBS News, while incarcerated for a non-violent robbery and another robbery, Collins was convicted of selling a small amount of marijuana to other inmates in the prison despite knowing the consequences of the California Three Strikes Law.  He received a 25 years to life sentence.

            Nevertheless, Collins received a reprieve in late April because last November voters approved an amendment that would allow inmates receiving a 25 to life sentence because of the California Three Strikes law to petition a judge for a more lenient sentence.

            Despite the controversy behind repeat offenders, Californians did the correct thing in amending the law because too many people, especially African American people, were having their lives snatched away because of non-violent crimes.

            The statistics about Black men and incarceration, whether exaggerated or not, are alarming. 

In 2001, research by Ivy League schools Columbia, Harvard and Princeton discovered that Black men in their 20s who did not attend college were incarcerated at a rate of 21 percent.  By their 30s, 60 percent of Black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison. 

Furthermore, as a result of the California Three Strikes Law, the “Golden State” spent $90 million annually operating their overcrowded prisons, which could have been spent on improving public education in California and preparing residents for something other than a life of crime.

            Unfortunately, criminal activity is something everyone has to deal with and criminals should definitely be punished for their offenses.  But what is such punishment really for?

            When parents punish unruly children it is so they have a deterrent to such unruly behavior in the future.

            When a teacher gives a student with great potential a “C” it is probably not because they think the student is just average; it is because they know that student is capable of much more and they want to correct the “average-ness” of their work.

            Furthermore, when judges sentence criminals to prison, it should not be because they want to effectively ruin their lives, but because they want them to take their freedom seriously and learn from the errors of their past ways.

            However, the previous California Three Strikes Law did more to ruin lives than to deter people from criminal behavior.

            Despite my opposition of the previous California Three Strikes Law, I empathize with the families of victims who lost a loved one to a violent repeat offender.

            “These individuals know darn well that if they misstep again, they are looking at the potential of spending the rest of their lives in prison.  This should be an incentive to put their lives back together, but they don’t.  They commit the crime anyway,” said Marc Klass whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was murdered by a repeat violent offender in 1993.

            Klaas believes all repeat offenders are dangerous, but I believe that all repeat violent offenders are dangerous.

            Furthermore, the data on whether the California Three Strikes Law lowered crime is inconclusive to many observers and researchers.

            According to AfricanAmerica.org, “In San Francisco, where the law is applied least often, 12 of every 1,000 prison inmates are ‘three-strike’ offenders.  Yet FBI data shows a crime rate drop of 42.5 percent from 1993-2002…In San Diego County, on the other hand, where the law is used most often, ‘three-strike’ offenders account for 117 of every 1,000 inmates, but the crime rate fell just 40.8 percent.”

            In addition, the rate of African Americans receiving life sentences as three-strike offenders rose to a rate 12 times higher than Whites.

            Nevertheless, amending the California Three Strikes Law is the first step towards really distinguishing from non-violent offenders and violent offenders.  Repeat violent offenders do pose a threat to society and should receive the harshest of treatment; non-violent repeat offenders, not so much.

            During the month of April, Collins became one of the first three-strike offenders to be released from a California prison and he vows to turn his life around once and for all.

            “I think the fear is returning back to prison,” Collins said.  “I think that this reality check of 25 years to life does something to you.  It makes you wonder, like ‘Wow, what the hell have I done with my life?’”

            Hopefully, the amended California Three Strikes Law will allow people who have made mistakes in their life to do something worthwhile with the rest of their life.         

This article was published on Friday 17 May, 2013.
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